It’s a headline Mets fans across the country had dreamed of seeing, hope would be true, but conceded to think of it as a far-fetched possibility. We’ve heard the song and dance so many times before with players like Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez that fans simply understood Jason Bay was going to get another shot at a starting job in Spring Training. We were going to have to live through another off-season of wants and needs, knowing that one of the biggest road blocks to a total team improvement rested in the decaying abilities of a highly paid scrub.
Not this time. Not this year.
Sandy Alderson did what many believed to be the impossible: he gave up on Jason Bay.
Before I go into a rant about how terrible an outfielder Jason Bay was during his two-year tour of duty with the Mets, we, as a fan base, have to at least admit that Bay took to heart his struggles and truly did try hard to get out of his never-ending slump. He never complained about the fans getting on his case when things were at their darkest moments. He never whined when Terry Collins started taking away playing time for players like Scott Hairston, Mike Baxter and Jordany Valdespin. He was, from all accounts, a good teammate and a truly dedicated worker.
Even with all that said regardless of what type of person Jason Bay was, he was absolutely an atrocious outfielder. Just terrible.
To say Jason Bay hurt the Mets more than he helped them is a critical understatement. The man was a black hole in the middle of the order. He was unable to make contact in certain situations, let alone get a hit. He never provided the power the team was expecting to get when Omar Minaya signed him after the 2009 season. His defense in left was barely replacement level, and was nowhere close to justifying his poor hitting.
Moving forward, even if the Mets have to pay every penny of Bay’s contract for the 2012 season (there are rumblings that some of the money will be deferred, meaning the Mets will have slightly more wiggle room in this year’s budget), they’re already a better team thank to addition by subtraction. The team had a need for at least one outfielder even if you were going to bring Bay back into the fold for 2013. The Lucas Duda experiment in right field might not have failed, but it didn’t get a passing grade, either. He is better suited to play left in Citi Field (or first base, but Ike Davis isn’t going anywhere). If you were going to bring back Bay, he would probably be relegated to a less-than-platoon role in left with Duda, only getting situational starts depending on the opposing pitcher.
With Bay gone, left is now Duda’s job. Period. It also allows takes some pressure off the Mets front office to find their next franchise center fielder on the open market or in trade. They could still prove to go down that path, but they now at least have the option of giving both Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Matt den Dekker a chance to win the job outright in Spring Training. It also lets the team explore the much deeper market (at least via trade) in right field, where players along the lines of Shin-Soo Choo, Justin Upton, Ben Zobrist and Denard Span are theoretically available for the right price.
The New York Mets are a better team today because now they have given themselves a chance to be more flexible when it comes to how they choose to build their team for 2013. It’s not to say the Mets will have more money to spend (though they should) or that they’ll even get the right players (though we hope). Instead, it allows for more possibility than previously imagined. There isn’t a hurdle or what-ifs anymore when it comes to how the Mets should handle their slumping, aging left fielder.
The Mets have improved. As a fan, that’s the baseline requirement I have for this team each and every day. And Sandy Alderson continues to meet that benchmark.