Amidst the Monday news of the Red Sox signing pitcher John Lackey and outfielder Mike Cameron came a truth that far too many are just sweeping off to the side like it doesn't matter—Jason Bay will not return to Boston next season.
While Theo and the gang may be ready to just move on quickly, I'm not fully prepared to drive Bay to the airport just yet. Bear with me for a minute, throw on some Pearl Jam (his at-bat band of choice), and grab some tissues if you start getting emotional. We'll get through this together.
The Canadian-born left fielder swept into Fenway in a time when The Nation needed him most. While the furor around MannyGate and exactly what to do divided media and fans alike, the '08 trade deadline deal to acquire Bay in a three-way trade with Pittsburgh and Los Angeles ended up cooling off a lot of hotheads who were furious at what had become a daily soap opera in the clubhouse.
And considering all that had happened, it was a great coup. The Red Sox had dealt for a former All-Star who was good for 25 home runs and 100 RBI a year in the abysmal Pirates organization. The possibilities for Bay in one of the top lineups in the AL were tremendous, and for a very affordable price with just one season remaining on the deal, it was as near a no risk proposition as you could get.
And for the rest of '08 Bay came through time and time again, hitting .293 with nine homers, 39 runs scored and 37 RBI for Boston, playing a great left field and providing a calming influence after the chaos that ensued the Manny situation. Remember his first night on the job? Two runs scored, including the game-winner after he hit a triple in the 12th and scored on a Jed Lowrie single. In his first postseason, Bay hit .341 with three long bombs and nine RBI in 11 games.
Just like that, we had our new man of the moment—a hitter like Ramirez and David Ortiz who we trusted at the plate in a clutch situation because he came through time after time after time.
Then '09 came and we got more of the same, for the most part. The first two months of the season were just plain golden with 15 homers, a .288 average and 49 RBI. Bay looked like a sure-fire MVP candidate, but that's why they play the whole season.
A nasty slump fueled by the inability to hit a 1-2 breaking ball killed the lineup in June and July. He got hot again in August and September, but suddenly there were questions we didn't have before. Did we still want Bay? How many years and at what price? Was there a better option?
Once the season closed though, you didn't find too many people ready to kick him to the curb unless Matt Holliday was ready to move into the house. Surely the Red Sox wouldn't let both Bay and Holliday slip through their ring-laden fingers and go into '10 with less of a power punch than in '09. If the past month has been any indication, that actually seems to be the case.
This offseason, it's clear that pitching and defense have become the main goals of the organization, while the power bats that many of us yearned for still haven't found their way here. And with the addition of Cameron for two seasons of value at what one year of Bay would probably cost, there is no reason to believe that Jason Raymond Bay will be patrolling left field in Fenway ever again.
But before you run with the notions being put out there that he's asking for too much money, that his defense isn't that great, and that the 36-year old Cameron is essentially "Bay Lite" with a better glove, stop yourself for a second.
At 31, Bay still managed to finish seventh in the AL MVP vote and had career-highs in home runs and RBI (and yes, strikeouts). He played a solid left field and adjusted to the Monster nicely in his season and a half here.
Sure, he had the awful two month slump, but keep in mind that he also batted all around the lineup in a constantly reshuffling order that had major power outages at nearly every position. Yep, he's got to take some accountability but with some better protection and a 15-20 point spike in that batting average, we'd be talking about the 2009 AL MVP.
In the next few weeks Bay is going to sign a big deal, likely with the New York Mets or Seattle Mariners, and just like that it'll be made official. He'll be gone. And at some point during that deal, the day will come when he'll make his return and get the same standing ovation he did the first time he took an at-bat in Fenway Park in '08—something that has become a hallmark of any former player's homecoming—and he'll deserve every single second of it.
Thanks for everything, J-Bay. It was a blast having you here, pun full intended.
Josh Nason is the main writer for Small White Ball, a New England-based sports and media blog that contributes to Bleacher Report. Reach him via Twitter or josh [at] smallwhiteball [dot-com].