Next year

The Mets will inevitably make a bunch of moves, major and/or minor, before they break camp next April. But out of curiosity, I took a look at the players under team control for 2012.

Obviously there’ll be a ton of turnover at the fringes of the roster, and possibly a certain shortstop returning to the fold. But even if Sandy Alderson decides to Rip Van Winkle the offseason, the 2012 Mets should again score a lot of runs. With Ike Davis returning to first base, David Wright at third, Daniel Murphy somewhere and a host of decent if unspectacular hitters through the rest of the lineup, the club will likely boast another deep offense capable of maintaining rallies.

But one thing came up on the podcast last week: How long can the Mets keep carrying Jason Bay as an everyday corner outfielder? Can they really enter 2012 with a left fielder coming off two seasons like the ones Bay has suffered with the Mets?

Even this year, Bay has hit lefties well. The righty half of a left-field platoon is certainly not worth what Bay will be paid, but of course Bay will get his $18 million regardless of how he’s used. The Mets have a slew of Major League ready and near-ready lefty bats without obvious positions on next year’s club: Murphy and Lucas Duda already producing at the Major League level, and Fernando Martinez and Kirk Nieuwenhuis in Triple-A.

Even if one of those guys emerges as the team’s regular right fielder, would the Mets be best served using another to split time with Bay in left? In between injuries, Martinez posted an .836 OPS against righties in Buffalo. Before shoulder surgery ended his season, Nieuwenhuis rocked a .986 mark in the split. Duda has mashed Major League righties to the tune of an .823 OPS in his short career, and Murphy a .793. As a point of comparison, Bay has a .579 OPS against righties in 2011.

Granted, none of those guys has established that he can be a Major League hitter as good as Bay was from 2004 to 2009, so the top priority should always be getting Bay straightened out and hoping he returns to something like his old form. But if that doesn’t happen and the Mets still want to be winning as many games as possible, they’d likely benefit from choosing a lefty to share at-bats in left field in 2012.

The Mets’ front office showed no fear of cutting bait on sunk costs last spring, but Bay is set to make as much as Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez combined and can likely still provide the team some value in a limited role. But if he’s inked in as an everyday starter for 2012, Bay looks like a pretty big hole in an otherwise solid lineup as long as he keeps performing (or not performing) like this.

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