The Red Sox’s Offseason Hinges on Jason Bay

By: Alex Reimer

Following the baseball hot stove season can be as convoluted and complicated as it gets. Seemingly everybody has an “inside scoop,” and even more people have an inclination about the next “blockbuster trade.” But as it pertains to the Boston Red Sox, one point is as clear as clear can be. And that point is, this Red Sox offseason revolves around Jason Bay, which is why negotiations should be approached with urgency.

Bay, coming off a 36 home run season and as consistent a 30/100 guy as there is in the game, will have several suitors on the free agent market. Angels’ owner Arte Moreno has already made it clear that he is willing to pursue Bay, and as we all know, all it takes is one team to dramatically hike up the price of a player.

The Red Sox assign values to members of the free agent market, and usually stick to that set figure. Theo Epstein and this front office believe in the system, which let’s face it, has brought them unparalleled success.

But Jason Bay is different. He’s different, because if he does not want return next season, who plays left field? Who replaces his production in a lineup that many feel is largely on the down turn?

Matt Holliday, in isolation, is a better play than Bay. He’s a little younger, more athletic, and better at defending his position. But Holliday has never performed in a major market like Boston, and his short stint in the American League with Oakland last year left a lot to be desired. Point being, Holliday to the Red Sox is not worth the hefty contract he’s going to receive, a contract which will undoubtedly be greater than Jason Bay’s.

But even beyond that, Scott Boras is Holliday’s agent. And don’t believe the rumors, the Yankees will look to spend money this winter and will likely be in on Holiday. This leads to a situation where Holliday is going to hold out long into the winter (ala Mark Teixeira) and hope a team will cave. It’s classic Scott Boras, and because of that, Holliday is not a dependable “plan B.” Because if the Red Sox strike out on both Bay and Holliday, it could very easily be January and Jeremy Hermida would be slated as the opening day left fielder. Not an enviable position for a big market team.

Which is why the Red Sox have to be willing to overpay for Bay. No matter which way it is sliced, Jason Bay will not be a “value signing” this offseason. He is not Jeremy Hermida, or a pitcher reclamation project. The Red Sox should look to “flex their financial muscle,” and always field a competitive offer. If they don’t want to go to 5 years, they should offer him more money per season than any other team. If they offer him 20 million per season for 4 years, and most teams are offering 17 million per season for 5 years that always ensures that the Red Sox have a chance.

Some believe that the Red Sox need to pursue a “blockbuster trade,” and make a serious run at Adrian Gonzalez or Miguel Cabrera. Which is a need for this team, a team that lacks a lineup anchor to lead them for years to come. But the problem is, that “big bat” may not be available via trade at a reasonable price this offseason. If it is, then you make the bold trade, but if not, it’d be best served to wait 6-12 months and let the market continue to develop.

That, of course, all hinges on Jason Bay’s production returning to the 2010 Red Sox lineup. If Bay is back, then you guarantee bringing back your lineup from last year, and can further weigh all of your options (which may be more “buyer friendly” come July, where Mike Lowell may have more trade value, etc).

But if Bay does not return, the Red Sox must be ready to heavily pursue a trade, no matter the terms. There will no longer be an option.

The Red Sox cannot afford to let Bay walk, and try to replace his spot in the lineup with Jeremy Hermida and Xavier Nady, or Hermida and “bargain player x.” Guys like that are great to have around, but not great for a team like the Red Sox to build around.

Transitional years should not be in the plans for a team like the Red Sox. And not resigning Bay and not replacing his production would send the wrong message.

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