Jason Bay won't be in the lineup when the Mets return home to kick off their series with the Braves in Atlanta on Tuesday night.
Willie Harris will be in left field, a change that hardly qualifies as a problem for the team as they continue their quest to a .500 record. Bay is 3-for-34 in his last 10 games with 13 strikeouts, so his absence from the lineup qualifies as addition by subtraction.
It's not the first time Terry Collins has tried to give Bay some time off in hopes of recovering the swing that hasn't been seen since he signed up to play for the Mets before the 2010 season. Bay has been out of the lineup for three of the last eight games. Harris, warts and all, can't do any worse in a position normally used to juice the offense.
Collins has been adamant that this doesn't constitute a benching or any other change in Bay's role, although that seems more like semantics than anything else. You don't sign a guy to a $66 million contract so that he can split time with the likes of Willie Harris and you don't start a time share unless something is seriously wrong with the contract holder in the first place.
Here's the rub: Time off doesn't come close to solving the problem that Bay presents the Mets. Benching him is fine because just about anyone can give the team more production at the plate, but it all but kills the chance that the Mets will see any kind of return on their investment.
Benching Bay or sending him on a phantom DL trip or even getting him to agree to going to the minors will make it very difficult to forsee any way that Bay provides anything close to the value of his contract. It also makes it much harder to see a way that the Mets, assuming they pay some of Bay's remaining freight, could convince anyone to send them a prospect in a trade for Bay at some point down the line.
It's a similar conundrum to the one that the Mets faced with Oliver Perez. There's no downside to keeping him off the field other than the fact that keeping him off the field defeats the entire purpose of having him on the team in the first place.
That said, as in the case of Perez, there's no rational argument to be made for continuing to run him out there in hopes of seeing a dramatic change in performance. Something in Bay's game is horribly broken and it isn't going to be fixed by simply crossing your fingers and filling out the lineup card the same way you did before.
Whether the issue is physical, mental, both or neither, the Mets neeed to have the Bay they thought they were getting in the lineup to benefit the team today and tomorrow. Finding that player is the hard part.