David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
The Mets won't do it, but Jason Bay sounded like he was ready to cut himself from the roster last night after a 4-2 loss to the Marlins. A few hours earlier, Terry Collins had officially announced that Bay was now a $66-million platoon player, and the leftfielder struggled to take the news in stride as he stood in the middle of the postgame clubhouse.
"More than anything, I don't want to be a distraction," Bay said. "I don't want to get in the way of everybody else. Obviously as a guy that's played every day for forever, it's tough. But I understand it."
The Mets also are worried about the Bay situation hanging over them like a black cloud just as Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez once did -- until they were released before the 2011 season at a combined cost of $18 million.
"I'm not going to keep answering this question for the next two months," an agitated Sandy Alderson said after the game. "We're not eating his contract."
But with Bay inching closer to the Citi Field exit, here's what likely happens next. He finishes this season in his new part-time role and then returns for spring training next year (for those screaming trade, don't waste your breath).
At that point, Bay will have roughly a month to prove he can be a productive piece in the Mets' lineup. That should provide Bay the opportunity to show he can do more than slap grounders to the left side of the infield or strike out, his signature contributions of the past two seasons.
But if that trend continues, and there appears to be no bottom to Bay's spiral, the solution is unavoidable. He'll have to be released before Opening Day, with the Mets picking up the remaining $19 million on his tab -- $16 million salary, $3 million buyout of his 2014 option.
When asked about his "tenuous" status with the Mets, Bay replied, "I'm really going day-to-day. There are a lot of things taking up my thoughts right now and looking that far down the road is really not one of them."
This isn't a new concept. Alderson, in his first year as general manager, decided on an evaluation period for Castillo and Perez -- the underperforming, overpaid players were entering the final season of their contracts -- and then cut them loose three days apart in late March.
Is Bay that far gone? Have two concussions permanently sapped the abilities of the three-time All-Star? As lost as Bay has looked, the Mets still are giving him the benefit of the doubt -- for now.
"I didn't want those guys to keep running me out there because they had to," Bay said. "I want [Collins]to do what he feels is best."
As promised, Collins used the recent West Coast trip to decide Bay's fate. He batted .065 (2-for-31) with a pair of singles and 10 strikeouts in 10 games.
When Bay returned from the disabled list on July 17, Collins rallied to his defense, insisting that he would refrain from making any snap judgments about the leftfielder until he reached 125 at-bats.
Bay is now at 134, and after going 1-for-4 Tuesday night, he's hitting .157 with five homers, 40 strikeouts and a .285 slugging percentage, far below that of Justin Turner (.379). That's enough of a sample size for Collins to employ the platoon -- Bay is hitting only .146 (7-for-48) against lefthanders -- but evidently not to bench him entirely.
"We have a couple lefties coming up this weekend," Collins said, "so Jason's going to get plenty of at-bats to get it going."
Either that, or provide more evidence to be used against him next March.