Jason Bay's Return Make the Mets' Outfield A Crowded Place

By Kevin Van Pelt

Jason Bay is scheduled to come off the disabled list tonight after breaking his rib. Bay has been struggling ever since he joined the Mets in 2010 and didn’t find his groove this season before the injury.

With solid play from rookie Kirk Nieuwenhuis, the Mets now have a decision to make with their roster. Through 55 games, Nieuwenhuis is batting .294 and has driven in 19 RBI’s. He has great speed at the top of the lineup and has been playing well on defense in left field and center field. Bay will return in left field which means that either Nieuwenhuis or Andres Torres will be playing center field. Torres is a lifetime .242 hitter and is batting .224 this season and has been slumping at the plate most of the season. If he has any edge on Nieuwenhuis it is his ability to play a great outfield and is able to track down almost any ball that is hit in his direction.

However, Nieuwenhuis” defense is not that far off from Torres’ and his hitting is much better which should give him the job as the everyday center fielder. Since Torres is a switch hitter and Nieuwenhuis bats lefty, expect Torres to be in the lineup against lefties. Terry Collins probably thinks that platooning these two players will be the best option for the team, but Nieuwenhuis needs to be in the lineup on a regular basis so he can stay in his rhythm. Torres will be able to get spot starts in center for when either Nieuwenhuis or Bay have a day off.

Scott Hairston and Mike Baxter are two other outfielders who have had great production in the early part of the season. Harriston leads the team in home runs while coming off the bench. He brings much needed power to the lineup but will probably remain on the bench. Baxter will be on the disabled list for at least a month while he recovers from a shoulder and rib injury after slamming into the wall making a catch to preserve Johan Santana’s no-hitter. Baxter is the best pinch hitter in the league so far this season and was starting to earn playing time before his untimely injury. When Baxter returns, it will just add another twist on who should be playing the outfield for the Mets.

The problem that Terry Collins might run into is if Bay continues to struggle after his return. It will be another Ike Davis situation where there is a high-profile player who is struggling to perform. The only problem with Bay is that he has a $100 million contract to go along with his bad performance. It is hard to spend that kind of money on a player and have him sit on the bench. However, this is something that the Mets seriously have to consider if his struggles continue.

As of now, the Met should go with an everyday lineup of Bay, Nieuwenhuis and Duda. If Bay continues to struggle, then the lineup should be looked at again. The return of Mike Baxter might make decisions in left field easier if Bay and Torres continue to struggle at the plate.

If there continues to be too many players to play at too few positions, maybe the Mets would consider trading someone like Jason Bay to help strengthen their bullpen. Obviously with Bay struggling he won’t get that much attention even if the Mets consider doing this trade. However, if he picks up his game, even just a little, desperate teams would have interest in him hoping he could return to his old form. This would solve the problem of who to play everyday while getting new help for the bullpen. This scenario is farfetched but is something that should be considered as the trading deadline approaches.

As Bay makes his return, hopefully he will return back to how he was in Boston or something close to it so to help add strength to the middle of the Mets’ lineup.


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