On a near daily basis, the New York Mets try to find ways to salvage something out of Jason Bay's contract. Tuesday against the Nationals, for example, manager Terry Collins slotted Bay in left field against a right-handed pitcher because he thought Bay's superior defense could help R.A. Dickey win a game.
But the Mets are paying Bay to be more than a novelty, and he still has one year left on his contract. Which begs the question: What should they do with him in 2013?
The Mets could simply cut Bay and eat his salary, as they did with Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez before last season. But at the time, the Mets were absolutely convinced that Castillo and Perez had nothing more to offer them despite their sizable contracts.
Judging by the way Collins talks about his former starting left fielder, the Mets are less convinced that Bay's tank is completely empty. General manager Sandy Alderson even said last month that eating Bay's contract would not be "appropriate."
"This time in his career, we know it's still there," Collins said of Bay's abilities, blaming his recent concussion as the root of his struggles. "Hopefully with the winter recovery, maybe you'll get something next spring that will really come forward."
The odds certainly do not favor Bay, who has yet to enjoy a long, healthy, productive stretch since signing a four-year, $66 million deal with the Mets before the 2010 season. A concussion robbed Bay of the final two months of 2010, and various injuries have consumed him ever since.
Even when healthy, Bay has struggled, batting .234 with 25 home runs over the last three seasons. That level of production is even more maddening for his team considering how consistent Bay had been before coming to the Mets. From 2005-09 with the Pirates and Red Sox, Bay hit .279, slugged .515, made two All-Star teams and averaged 31 home runs per season.
Now, the Mets are simply trying to find some way to salvage his remaining time in New York.
The one thing Bay has going for him is an extremely murky outfield situation in which no one is guaranteed a job next season. Lucas Duda will compete seriously for a starting role but is hardly a lock. Mike Baxter and Jordany Valdespin also could make runs at playing time, but perhaps profile best as bench players. Andres Torres is a non-tender candidate and Scott Hairston can become a free agent.
The Mets have no blue-chip outfield prospects at the top levels of their farm system and are unlikely to make serious plays at the top free agent outfielders. That leaves a group of underwhelming incumbents -- Duda, Baxter, Valdespin and Kirk Nieuwenhuis -- competing for three outfield jobs.
It is entirely possible that Bay could form a platoon with one of those four, all of whom hit left-handed. Though Bay has struggled against left-handed pitching this year as much as he has against righties, he was productive versus lefties as recently as 2011. There is reason to believe he can produce similarly yet again.
But time is running out. Every day that passes means dollars off Bay's contract, giving the Mets less and less reason to keep him on board. If Bay is going to produce for the Mets in 2013, he will need to begin in spring training and carry it through the early season, before his team's patience runs out.
"I don't want to be a distraction," Bay said. "I want to go out there and help out any way I can. That is kind of the position that I'm in."