Season in preview: Left fielders

All the Duda day.

The left fielders in April: Willie Harris, Lucas Duda and eventually Jason Bay.

Overview: Though injuries like Jason Bay’s strained intercostal muscle can nag hitters for a while, I don’t imagine he’ll really be out too long to start the year. Sandy Alderson said the team’s ability to backdate Bay was a factor in their decision to start him on the disabled list, seemingly implying that Bay’s injury would not require a full 15-day absence.

In the interim, we’ll enjoy some slap-happy fun from Harris, who can’t really hit like a Major League left fielder, and maybe a few moonshots from Duda, who seems destined to become either a baseball-smashing big-league folk hero or a baseball-smashing Quadruple-A folk hero. Duda is massive, with a sweet lefty swing that destroyed pitching at two Minor League levels last year. At 25, he is old for a prospect and defensively limited. I imagine, with Carlos Beltran pegged for the Mets’ other corner outfield spot this year, Duda will get plenty of big-league opportunities in 2011 to prove his breakout 2010 was no fluke.

As for Bay: Man was I wrong about Bay. I didn’t love the signing at the time — I preferred Matt Holliday, as many Mets fans did — but I said he’d hit home runs. And I thought it interesting that the Mets seemed to cite his tendency to pull the ball, something I thought would play well at Citi Field. Only none of that happened. His power disappeared even before he lost the end of his season to a concussion. He hit six home runs and only two to left field. Compare that to his 2009, when he hit 36, and all but four of them went to left. Did he find something comforting about the Green Monster? Did he adjust his approach for Citi Field’s dimensions? I don’t know. It was an alarming turn of events, no doubt.

Based on back-of-the-baseball card speculation alone, Bay seems an obvious candidate for a bounceback season, the guy you hope everyone forgets about in your fantasy draft and snag in a late round. He hit 25 or more home runs in five of his six big-league seasons before 2010, and though they were all spent in better hitting environments than Citi Field, it’s not like he was playing beer-league softball.

Still, the shellshocked and brutalized Mets fan in me struggles to imagine Bay returning to the form that earned him his huge contract. Even though I know rationally that there’s basically nothing to Spring Training stats, I see how he hit no home runs and only two doubles in the Grapefruit League and just assume his power is all sapped up. But I hope that’s just me being pessimistic.

The good news is that in Duda, not to mention Fernando Martinez and Kirk Nieuwenhuis, the Mets have promising potential in-house replacements playing at the Triple-A level. If Bay falters, his contract will appear an albatross to match that of Oliver Perez, but at least the Mets should be able to find someone to replace him without shelling out more money on another free agent. If he succeeds, then, well, good.

The left fielders in September: Bay and Duda.

Bay’s contract means he’s probably not going anywhere anytime soon. Even if he hits in 2011, he will be a difficult piece to move.

How they stack up: Hard to tell since Bay is something of a mystery. Martin Prado, in Atlanta, is a nice player, but a move to a full-time left field job takes away from his value. The Marlins’ Logan Morrison is reasonably new to left field but should develop into an excellent hitter. Raul Ibanez is starting to show his age and Mike Morse never really hit as well in the Minors as he did in the Majors at 28 last year. If Bay plays even close to his 2009 level, I’ll take him over all of them but Morrison. If he plays like he did in 2010, then the NL East has a weird glut of left fielders that get on base a bunch but have no power.

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