Fifth outfielder debate: Jason Bay vs. Casper Wells


When Mariners’ GM Jack Zdurencik came back from the Winter Meetings with veteran OF Jason Bay as his top prize, reactions from fans and writers ranged from “meh” to “bleh.” Not many people realistically thought Casper Wells could lose his roster spot to a former all-star who hit just .165 in a brief stint with the Mets in 2012. However, as Opening Day draws closer, speculation has it that Bay might just edge Wells for the fifth spot in the Mariners outfield.

Since coming over from Detroit in 2011, Wells has provided a mixed bag of results at the plate. Late in 2011, he hit home runs in four consecutive games. In his quest for a fifth game, former Mariner SP Brandon Morrow drilled him in the head, and Wells struggled with an equilibrium problem for the remainder of that season.

In 93 games with the Mariners in 2012, he hit .228 with 10 home runs and 36 RBI. He couldn’t command consistent playing time, even against the likes of Eric Thames, who was demoted to Triple-A last week.

Still, many feel Wells deserves a better chance to prove himself in 2013. Zdurencik and Mariners’ manager Eric Wedge do not seem to agree with those people. And unfortunately for Wells, the two bosses have the Spring Training numbers to back up their perceived viewpoint.

Undeniably, Bay has outplayed Wells in Spring Training. In their first 15 games, Bay posted a .319 batting average, while Wells only hit .196. Bay’s on base percentage falls just short of .400, while Wells’ barely eclipses .250.

While they both have two home runs and Wells actually has eight more RBI, neither Wells nor Bay projects for the heart of the Mariners’ lineup. In the 1-2 and 7-9 spots, the Mariners need hitters who can get on base and make things happen, and Bay has proved more effective in that regard by a wide margin.

Still, Wells has youth on his side. At just 28, his best still may be yet to come. The same cannot be said for Bay, who’s batting average decreased during each of the last four seasons. Bay hasn’t been a solid major league contributor since 2010, when he hit 36 homers and drove in 119 runs for Boston. So picking Bay over Wells means the Mariners are banking on a career CPR act from Bay. Picking Wells would only require the “Upstate Baller” to take the step forward the organization thought he would take when they traded for him.

Yesterday, Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times projected Bay would make the roster over Wells. That feeling is slowly becoming the conventional wisdom regarding the situation. An outfield of Franklin Gutierrez, Michael Saunders, Michael Morse and Raul Ibanez leaves little opportunity for Wells to get the extended reps he needs to improve. And with all of his minor league options exhausted, Tacoma is not a possibility.

The Mariners must decide to ditch Bay or Wells and do it soon. As of now, all signs are pointing to Bay making the team, and Wells being designated for assignment.