With the Yankees on the doorstep of another championship, it appears the end of the World Series will once again be reason to celebrate for those dressed in pinstripes.
For the Red Sox and their fans, though, it simply sets the clock in motion.
Once the series wraps up the Sox will have two weeks to negotiate exclusively with Jason Bay before the rest of baseball gets involved, a 14-day window sure to be fruitless and frustrating for the team’s supporters. After all, given that the two sides have had more than a year to put something together, it’s highly unlikely something will be completed in a matter of days.
Of course, all bets are off once Bay hits the open market. It only takes one talent-hungry team with deep pockets to swipe Bay away, whether that team resides in the Bronx or not. Based on similar negotiations in the past—Derek Lowe, Pedro Martinez, Nomar Garciaparra, Johnny Damon—the smart money is on Bay leaving.
Or, more accurately, the smart money will be the money signing the veteran leftfielder. And it’s growing less and less likely that the bills will be coming from Kenmore Square.
If the situation unfolds in that manner and Bay winds up in a different uniform next season, Theo may want to dig up his gorilla suit again.
The Red Sox have built their empire on a blueprint not unlike the one the Patriots used to assert their dominance in the NFL. All emotion is removed from each and every transaction. A player is assigned a value, and the team will not go above and beyond that value, no matter what. If said player accepts the terms, great. If not, they move on.
For awhile, it seemed like a magical formula. Bill Belichick was able to turn the Mike Vrabels and the Tedy Bruschis and the Troy Browns of the world into the backbone of a true NFL dynasty. The Patriots were unstoppable, and teams all over the league started stealing their strategies when it came to signing personnel.
But cracks have started to appear. The Patriots decided Asante Samuel wasn’t worth what he was asking for, and the secondary has been a weakness for three years. Deion Branch was exiled after his contract negotiations grew contentious, and the ensuing receiving corps was so terrible the Pats felt compelled to unload a truck full of draft picks to get Randy Moss and Wes Welker for Tom Brady.
It should also be noted that the Patriots, even with an undefeated regular season in the mix, have not won a Super Bowl since 2004. That stretch includes an epic collapse in the 2006 AFC title game—with the aforementioned lackluster receiving corps—and last year’s finish short of the playoffs.
The point? Marrying yourself to a certain value for a player is a nice idea—when it works. But it’s not an infallible plan.
The Red Sox have followed the same outline in building two champions in the last five years. They let Derek Lowe walk because he wanted too many years, shied away from Johnny Damon because of his demands, and let Pedro Martinez go because he was looking for too much security.
Those moves all worked out, given that suitable replacements were discovered in every case. It wasn’t until last offseason that the Red Sox suffered their first big setback, losing out on the Mark Teixeira sweepstakes.
Personally, I’m not a Teixeira fan. But there’s no doubt his bat would have made a difference in the Red Sox lineup. Just ask Tony Massarotti, who no doubt sleeps with a picture of the Yankees slugger under his pillow given the number of references he makes daily in regards to last year’s negotiations.
But even the Teixeira situation is different, given that he was never a member of the Red Sox to begin with. Letting Bay go, though, would be a monumental mistake, especially in the wake of last year’s empty offseason.
Bay has been nothing short of a model citizen since arriving in Boston. He is good for .280-30-100 every year, and his personality is a perfect fit in the clubhouse and in the community. His defense is below average by every baseball metric—an overrated evaluation system if ever there was one—but you don’t need screwy equations to tell you he’s an upgrade on his predecessor.
But the Red Sox have no doubt decided his worth, and based on the lack of progress in negotiations, Bay and his agent think he’s worth more.
And it’s time to break the rules.
There are no equivalent alternatives. It’s Bay or Matt Holliday (yikes) or some one-year stopgap in left. Or it’s trading a handful of prospects to find a player who best compares with a player you already have. The options aren’t exactly appealing.
So it’s time to offer more money. Or more years. I’m certainly not advocating for the Red Sox to hand Bay a blank check, but there has to be some middle ground. Being stubborn and sticking to “the plan” has netted consecutive seasons with earlier playoff exits.
To me it’s simple: If you have the answer in your own clubhouse and it takes a little more money or one extra year to keep him there, you offer it. Period.
But it’s not that plain and simple, not when the Red Sox are involved. They are steadfast in their decision to hold the line. And that’s the scariest part for Red Sox fans. The writing is essentially on the wall.
But here’s hoping something changes in the next few weeks or months, and here’s hoping that something is Boston’s approach, at least in this case. Because the bottom line is simple: Losing Bay will cost the Red Sox a lot more than signing him will.
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