Lack of production with Mets doesn't discourage Bay

Lack of production with Mets doesn't discourage Bay

Lack of production with Mets doesn't discourage Bay
NEW YORK -- Jason Bay's wife, Kristen, is a sounding board. His teammates listen. His hitting coach, Dave Hudgens, has worked religiously with Bay for the past two years.

All care. All give support.

"I think everybody knows the situation that I'm in," Bay said late one afternoon last week, preparing for another game in which he did not play. "It hasn't gone well, and everybody wants to try to help. Ultimately, it just boils down to no one really has an answer.

"But I'm not looking for answers. I just want someone to listen."

In that way, Bay is done searching for some magic fix that will erase the past three years from his memory. It is clear now that he may never rediscover his previous All-Star heights -- hardly the fate the Mets envisioned when they signed Bay to a four-year, $66 million deal. (These days, Bay's name is rarely written without those numbers in tow. They are indictments.)

But within the confines of his own clubhouse, Bay remains one of the most well-liked players in recent memory for a reason. He cares. He supports. And Bay tries really, really hard.

Because of that, Bay's struggles have become a group frustration, complete with busted theories and shaky hypotheses. He does not grate on other Mets players, as previous albatrosses Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo once did. Bay has never showed up to camp out of shape. No one has ever accused him of loafing.

What Bay has committed, however, is still a cardinal transgression: he has not produced, nor shown any signs of doing so to the slightest degree.

That is a problem.

"We've got to figure out how to use this guy," manager Terry Collins said, "to get something out of him."

Goodness knows the Mets have tried. Heading into their 11-game West Coast swing at the end of July, Collins gave Bay an extended run to prove his worth, starting him in left field nine times and using him in 10 of those 11 games. But Bay went 2-for-31 over that stretch, without an extra-base hit.

"It was like I had a chance and I didn't do enough with it," Bay said.

At home, Bay will often hash out similar lamentations with Kristen, or with his father, or with anyone who will listen. This is nothing new. After his disappointing first season with the Mets was cut short by a concussion, Bay spent most of last year battling through injuries and tinkering with his stance.

The latter activity has long been an issue for Bay, who changed his stance to an almost unrecognizable degree in his early days with the Mets, then spent months trying to scale it back to what it once was. In recent times, Bay has focused simply on eliminating as much movement as possible from his stance -- trying, as he says, to simplify things.

The Mets have stuck with him through it all for two reasons: money and pedigree. They gave Bay $66 million after the 2009 season because he hit 181 home runs with a .280 batting average and an .894 OPS over six years with the Pirates and Red Sox. Only seven players in baseball matched that feat: Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz, Mark Teixeira, Manny Ramirez, Miguel Cabrera and Lance Berkman. Celebrated company, in other words.

That is why Bay still feels like he is "one thought, one swing, one something away from figuring it out." He once reached an elite level that few others have, and feels he can make it back there again.

It is also why the Mets are amazed that, emotionally at least, Bay has handled his fall as well as he has.

"He's about as accountable as anybody that I've been around," third baseman David Wright said. "You see how much he cares and the work that he puts in. He's one of those guys that it's very easy to root for, because you see the effort level. You see just how much he cares.

"It's obviously tough seeing him go through this, but I think he's dealt with it well. I think he's still been a tremendous teammate, and you gain a lot of respect seeing what he's been through, and the way he still carries himself, and how he tries to help out the younger players and the kind of teammate he is."

Yet the question is how long Bay will remain a teammate. General manager Sandy Alderson has been adamant in saying that he will not cut Bay and eat the $19 million still guaranteed on his contract after this season, largely because the team has no foolproof alternatives. But the more time that passes, the less money the Mets owe. The justification for keeping Bay dwindles.

Collins stopped short of saying Bay has already precluded himself from earning a starting job next spring, but noted there will be many players -- Lucas Duda, Mike Baxter, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Jordany Valdespin and Matt den Dekker, to name five, along with any potential free-agent or trade acquisitions -- fighting for limited playing time. The writing is on the outfield wall.

So Bay finds himself in a bit of a catch-22. He cannot improve his numbers if he does not play. But Bay will not play regularly until his numbers improve.

All that's left for Bay is to continue working, continue sitting on the bench, continue starting when he can and, perhaps most importantly, continue believing he is still a Major League player.

"In a perfect world, you'd think that would help," Bay said. "But I've been doing a lot for so long that you just don't know."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.