David Lennon has been a staff writer for Newsday since 1991, when he started covering New York City
Of all the problems the Mets are faced with this season, and for years to come, who knew that the K-Rod conundrum would be the easiest to solve?
Try fixing Jason Bay, or turning Mike Pelfrey into a front of the rotation starter, never mind a No. 1. Finding a taker for Francisco Rodriguez, and his $17.5-million vesting option, was a relative breeze by comparison. So what if it involved throwing in another $5 million to make the whole bad dream go away?
That's nothing when you consider Bay's quagmire of a contract, which still has another guaranteed $35 million left over the next two seasons and a vesting option for 2014 worth $17 million. Not the kind of money anyone wants to be paying a .234 hitter that Terry Collins is now considering to bench in favor of Scott Hairston.
Remember when Bay appeared to have his season turned around? Well, he's back in a 3-for-30 skid since his two-homer night July 5 at Dodger Stadium, and yes, those are singles. His problems only deepened yesterday, when Bay went 0-for-4 and stranded five in the Mets' 8-5 loss to the Phillies.
By the ninth inning, the skeleton crew that remained from the crowd of 34,695 pre-emptively booed Bay on his way to the plate rather than wait to see what he did. He didn't disappoint. With Daniel Murphy on second base after his one-out double off the rightfield wall, Bay popped up foul to Ryan Howard -- and was jeered again for his return trip to dugout.
"That's not the first time," Bay said. "Believe me, imagine how frustrated the fans are, do you think that I enjoy it? . . . There's a game tomorrow and one for the next 21/2 months, so it ain't going anywhere. You can't run from it."
That's true. But Collins can try to hide Bay on the bench, and no one would blame the manager for giving Hairston a shot in leftfield as long as they are still breathing in the wild-card race. Hairston had another run-scoring single Sunday and is batting .375 (6-for-16) with two home runs and 10 RBIs in his last 10 games.
Following the loss, Collins was asked the inevitable question about replacing Bay with Hairston, and he seemed to be leaning in that direction.
"We faced this a couple times already this year," Collins said. "When you saw Jason last week swing the bat, you thought he was going to start carrying you like he's capable of doing. I'm going to talk with him tomorrow, and see how he's doing, see where he's at."
That's manager-speak for, let me talk to Bay personally about sitting him Monday night against the Marlins before creating a huge mess for myself by telling you guys first. On the heels of his managers' response, Bay was asked about his frame of mind.
"I'm sane?" he said. "I don't really understand."
Bay, for his part, once again handled his professional nightmare with a light touch. After avoiding these types of questions for most of this month, he's back in the spotlight.
His timing is terrible. With Carlos Beltran spending his second straight day hooked up to an IV bag, and not expected back Monday night, either, Collins started Willie Harris in rightfield -- and batted him third. Once the Mets ultimately fall out of the race, what Bay does this season will no longer matter.
But two more years of this? There's surely not a phone call Sandy Alderson can make to delete the Mets' financial commitment to Bay, who also has a full no-trade clause. If Bay doesn't right himself, the alternative is too depressing to think about, for both him and the Mets.