It was just moments after the end of his first full season as a Red Sox.
The sting was still there, and the moving boxes weren’t too far behind. But Jason Bay also realized the reality of his situation: Something exciting — something he had been playing all of his life for, in a sense — was around the corner.
Bay was ready to head down the path to signing the kind of contract even the most well-to-do major leaguers dream of.
“I’m actually looking forward to it,” Bay said of his first foray into free agency. “I was looking forward to it after winning a World Series, or at least going further than this, but everybody, I don’t want to say 'plays to get to this point,' but it’s something new and something interesting.
“It’s tough to go out on these terms, but I guess the second part of my season is this offseason and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s out there and seeing how the process goes.”
Thus far the contract negotiating process has been uneven, a notion supported by Theo Epstein at Monday’s Red Sox post-mortem press conference, where the Red Sox general manager called the talks “unusual.”
You might understand why Bay’s initial go-round regarding talks with the Red Sox might be classified as “unusual.” As Epstein explained, both sides seemingly were motivated to get a deal done as far back as spring training, but because of a market that was still reeling from the likes of contracts such as Bobby Abreu’s one-year, $5 million deal, common ground was difficult to discover.
The Red Sox were thinking that the level of compensation for outfielders was still trending toward the lower end, coming in with an offer of approximately three years for $30 million, while Bay was looking for something upward of four years at $14 million per.
Then came July, when the two sides mandated that something close to an agreement be reached by the end of the All-Star break or talks would be tabled until after the season. Nothing could be decided upon, and the two factions were true to their word, reserving the next level of negotiations for October.
That was spring and summer, this is fall, and adjustments from both sides will have to be made.
Bay tried to put the importance of his production out of his head throughout his season, a task not easily accomplished considering how long it took the 31-year-old to get to this point. But as the ’09 season came to a close, a deep breath could be (and was) taken by the left fielder, with his numbers ending up at .267, 36 homers and 119 RBI.
(Matt Holliday, the other top-level free agent outfielder to hit the market, finished at .313, 24 home runs, and 109 RBI. In case you missed it — or were blinded by his fielding miscue in the playoffs — the 29-year-old ended up hitting .353 after getting traded to St. Louis.)
It’s not as easy as those meat and potatoes numbers, however, with Epstein actually having gone on record as saying that RBI is a drastically overrated statistic.
The Red Sox value fielding tremendously — as was reinforced by the ‘to-do’ list given by Epstein Monday, explaining that improving the team’s overall defense was a priority heading into the offseason — and, in this regard, Bay has his detractors. While many look at the outfielder and see a solid defender, others will point to defensive metrics to suggest otherwise.
Like it or not, when formulating their offer, the Red Sox will be referencing their own form of defensive analysis and that might not help Bay’s cause. Defense was a big reason why the Sox didn’t hesitate in offering Mark Teixeira $170 million, and it might be the impetus for an offer to Bay falling short of another suitor.
But, for Bay, the beauty is that there doesn’t figure to be any shortage of interest. The market is thin, and he has proven himself to be a potent middle-of-the-order bat, the likes of which is hard to come by. He had the third-best OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) of any left fielder in the majors (.921), and was second among those playing the position in the Bill James-sponsored stat, runs created (only behind Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun).
Bay would love to stay with the Red Sox, but he also understands this is an opportunity for which he has worked hard. He did his part, and now is the time to reap the benefits — whether it’s here or somewhere else.
“You knew it was coming at some point, on good or bad terms,” Bay said. “Before, whenever a season, whether it was the postseason or regular season, ended I knew where I was going to be. It’s different. It’s a little unsettling, but we’ll be fine.
“I don’t think it will be hard because I’ve got to this point. We talked a couple of times and it was just, ‘Hey, we’re going to get to this point.’ It’s easier said than done. You still have to play and you still have to produce and I feel comfortable in the position I’ve put myself in amidst all that stuff.”
Here is what to expect from the other members of the Red Sox as they head into their offseason earlier than anticipated:
The statistics don’t need to be recited again, and neither do the historical precedents for catchers 37-years-old and up. We already went down that road ad nauseum last offseason.
The Sox aren’t going to pick up Varitek’s $5 million team option, and even though it is believed the backstop will fall into ‘Type B’ free agent status and could potentially bring the team a draft pick, the Red Sox most likely aren’t going to offer their captain arbitration. That leaves the $3 million player option, which, unless Varitek decides to retire, seems the most logical option. There is, of course, the notion that Scott Boras could convince his client that something better than the role of leader-in-the-clubhouse, $3 million backup catcher is out there, but considering Varitek’s two-year drop-off that doesn’t seem likely.
There are also bonuses Varitek could earn if he does accept the player option, which could add a million or two to his base salary.
The Red Sox hold a $7 million club option on Martinez for 2010 (with a $250,000 buyout). THIS is the biggest no-brainer in the history of Earth. The only question is whether or not the team gets anywhere in regards to a contract extension this offseason, which would seem to be the next logical step considering Martinez’s age (31 on Opening Day next season), production and versatility. It is worth noting that Martinez is a year-and-a-half younger now than was Varitek when he signed his four-year extension following the 2004 season.
The first baseman is signed for another three years, with a club option for $13 million for ’13. Considering Youkilis will enter into the AL MVP conversation once again, the four-year, $41.125 million extension to which the Red Sox locked him up seems like an important move when trying to solidify a foundation to build around.
Kotchman has one more year of arbitration after signing a one-year, $2.885 million deal with the Braves last offseason. He is one of the best defensive first basemen in the majors, but didn’t take to the part-time role with the Red Sox from the offensive side of things like the team had hoped, having gone 0-for-11 as a pinch-hitter this season. He finished his ’09 stint with the Red Sox with a .218 batting average and an on-base percentage of just .284.
(Not that it matters, because he became a full-time player, but Adam LaRoche, the player who the Sox traded for Kotchman, hit .325 with 12 homers for the Braves. He will be entering his first year of free agency.)
Much like Youkilis, Pedroia will be around a while, with his current contract keeping him under the Red Sox’ control through ’15. The only difference will be that the second baseman won’t be working out at his usual offseason destination, Athletes' Performance, as the facility moved too far away from his Arizona home.
The infielder will head out to Arizona to be checked out by hand specialist Dr. Donald Sheridan once again this week. Lowrie’s hope is that rest, time away from baseball activities, and ultimately more strengthening will allow him to avoid any further surgery and have him ready to compete for the shortstop job next spring training.
This one will be interesting. The team has a $6 million option (with a $500,000 buyout) on the shortstop, who will be 33-years-old next Opening Day. Considering Gonzalez’ contributions since coming to the Sox (a surprising .284 batting average with Boston), a one-year commitment would seem palatable.
The question is whether the Red Sox might value a Marco Scutaro (who is a Type A free agent and would cost the team a draft pick) enough to commit three-or-so years to the soon-to-be 34-year-old. The thinking here is – especially with the emergence of Jacoby Ellsbury in the leadoff spot — probably not.
Perhaps the Sox can see what Gonzalez and Lowrie can deliver while monitoring the progress of newly-signed Cuban shortstop Jose Iglesias (4 years, $8.25 million), who will begin his professional stint by playing in the Arizona Fall League. If things don’t pan out, Milwaukee’s J.J. Hardy is a free agent after the ’10 season.
After an admirable year (remember, he was originally supposed to be insurance in Pawtucket, not Boston), the Sox can control his deal by tendering him a contract. Green has proven his worth as a utility man, but he would have to come back next season with the same kind of uncertainty with which he entered Fort Myers with this year.
His hope is that some time to devote towards strengthening his surgically-repaired right hip, instead of constantly trying to maintain it throughout a baseball season, makes a world of difference heading into next season. The 35-year-old is signed for one more season and is encouraged by the prognosis the doctors are giving him. Lowell showed some of his best mobility in the playoffs, which was also another positive sign heading into the offseason.
Don’t be surprised if you hear Lowell’s name mentioned in trade rumors this offseason, as the Red Sox’ infatuation with San Diego’s Adrian Gonzalez hasn’t gone anywhere. But when Epstein talked Monday about one last go-round for this group of veterans, you couldn’t help but think of the third baseman, and …
It seemed like strong words from Epstein when he said regarding Ortiz’ presence in the Red Sox lineup next year, “If he’s going to be the DH on this team, we need him to be a force. We’re a different team when he is that force. There will be conversations about what he thinks he needs to do to get back there. It’s important. It’s important for this club, for him to be that force as the DH.”
Ortiz is signed through next season with a team option ($12.5 million) for 2011, so this could potentially be the last Red Sox go-round for the soon-to-be 34-year-old. His numbers from June 1 until the end of the regular season rivaled most sluggers in baseball, but the lasting image of a rough postseason, along with the lingering memory of those first two months, leaves the Red Sox with some doubt heading into ’10.
Perhaps the most improved player in the Red Sox’ lineup, Ellsbury emerged as a potential All-Star-caliber centerfielder. But don’t expect Ellsbury to sign one of those Pedroia/Lester/Youkilis deals where his arbitration years are bought out. He has Scott Boras as an agent, and Boras doesn’t typically go that route.
It’s hard to believe, but Drew has already been with the Red Sox for three years. He has two more seasons on his current deal and the debate regarding its worth rages on, surprisingly with nobody closer to a definitive win or loss. Would Drew have been able to get $14 million last offseason? No, not even from the Red Sox. But there was value to the outfielder’s game, the kind that this organization relishes more some others.
While Drew’s numbers this season were solid across the board, the one piece that was missing that had been prevalent in the previous two seasons was the kind of hot streak that carried the team. An argument could be made — and was insinuated by Drew following the Sox’ final game of the season — that his home run swing in Game 3 of the ALDS was a sign that that kind of stretch was just around the corner.
It was a shame for Baldelli that the season ended like it did. He was thought to have been ready to play if the Sox advanced to the ALCS (having jogged for the first time on the elimination day), and had the potential to have provided that Bobby Kielty, 2007 World Series moment. But instead the last impression potential suitors for Baldelli’s services get is that of a chronically injured outfielder.
Despite a much more productive season (.290 vs. lefties) than ’08, it is believed that Baldelli will have to take another deal similar to the one he signed with the Red Sox (base of $500,000 with incentives). He is, however, encouraged by the progress he made health-wise, having already signed up to play in a recreational baseball league in Rhode Island in a few weeks.
He’s not going anywhere, having locked himself up with the Red Sox potentially through ’14. So much for those notions that Lester would get worn down after a rigorous ’08 season. He not only threw just 12 fewer pitches this season than last (3,500-3,512), but was raring to go on three days rest heading into a potential Game 4 in the ALDS. Once just 211 pounds, the lefty has made himself into a 230-something-pound horse.
His option kicked in with his 28th start this season, and now the real debate begins: What will happen to Beckett after next season? The righty said prior to the season he was hoping to sit down with Epstein following the ’09 campaign and talk about his future, but an extension this time around will be much trickier than the one he signed in ’06.
The 29-year-old was able to come to grips with inking what many perceived as an under-value deal in his first season with the Sox with the knowledge that he had a big deal coming around the corner in ’11. It will be interesting to see how much the Red Sox weigh Beckett’s performance and presence on the staff against some physical bumps in the road. Will the Sox be willing to give five years to a 31-year-old Beckett? This we know: Somebody will.
How he handles heading into spring training as a presumed member of the starting rotation should be interesting. By most accounts, Buchholz matured quite a bit over the season, but still has some work to do, as the last stretch of regular season games would suggest (when he shook off Martinez far too many times). Unless the name ‘Felix Hernandez’ is involved, Buchholz shouldn’t have to deal with the rumor mill nearly as much as last offseason, and Epstein said that the right-hander is "penciled in" the rotation for next season.
He’s signed for another three years and the Red Sox are hoping he learned a valuable lesson this time around. All you need to know in regards to how the team feels regarding Matsuzaka heading into ’10 could be deciphered through the comments of Epstein on Monday.
“Our strong expectation is that he shows up in fantastic shape on Day One of spring Training this year,” the Sox GM said. “I see it as a necessity, not really an option.”
He will most likely get surgery this week and expect to be ready for spring training without any limitations. Epstein all but said Monday that the Sox will be picking up the 43-year-old’s $4 million option for next season. Not to be forgotten is how Wakefield helped save the Sox’ rotation through some rough spots in that first half, when he earned All-Star status.
Byrd said he was going to wait until he saw how this stint with the Red Sox worked out before deciding if he was going to execute a similar plan (coming back midway through the season) next year. While it would appear he showed enough, he left the Red Sox clubhouse Monday undecided about his future.
The closer will be ready for arbitration once again this season, having broken a record for a first-year arbitration-eligible contract for a closer last offseason (one-year, $6.25 million).
Postseason implosion aside, Papelbon did little to diminish his value. The only question is whether his continued stance of not hesitating in going year to year, and with free agency now just two years away, will the Red Sox try and get value for the closer in a trade now instead of creeping closer to the uncertainty of the open market? If you thought last offseason’s back and forth with Papelbon was dramatic, you haven’t seen anything yet.
He showed enough that some team could identify him as its closer, but (unless Papelbon is traded and they want to ease in Daniel Bard) Boston isn’t that team. And, as he explained, if Wagner isn’t closing he isn’t playing. The Sox will undoubtedly offer him arbitration, but the lefty already said he most likely won’t accept it. His initial inclination following this season appears to be retirement.
The Red Sox hold a club option on the 39-year-old for what comes out to be approximately $6 million, a price at which the Sox would seem unlikely to exercise the option on the middle reliever. All the same, Saito gave indications that he would very much like to return to Boston, and he never experienced any sort of physical limitations that made him unavailable (56 games) while proving productive, holding left-handed hitters to a .195 batting average, so there could be mutual interest in a new contract should Saito not be blown away by an offer elsewhere.
The lefty is arbitration eligible, which means he will be back, but should be getting a nice raise from $1.75 million he made in ’09.
Ramon Ramirez and Manny Delcarmen
Both are arbitration eligible and both will be back unless traded.