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Break point for Bay, Sox

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  December 13, 2009 07:42 AM

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With regard to Jason Bay, the question ultimately concerns what happened between the Red Sox and their left fielder during the All-Star break. That was when Bay’s defense and his health became points of debate, a reflection of events taking place inside the Boston organization.

According to one source, in fact, the Red Sox and Bay either had agreed or were close to agreement on a contract at the All-Star break when the Red Sox expressed concerns over Bay’s knee, shoulder or both. Whatever the case, the Red Sox balked at roughly the time that Theo Epstein spoke of an "aggressive," offer to the player, who is now sufficiently disgruntled that agent Joe Urbon is telling the media that Bay is "prepared to move on" from Boston.

Meanwhile, since the end of the season, the Red Sox have dismissed their trainer, Paul Lessard, who subsequently was hired by the Cincinnati Reds, and effectively replaced him with assistant trainer Mike Reinold. There was a time when such a development would have inspired media outlets to aggressively inquire about such a curious change, but almost no one batted an eye when Lessard was abruptly and mysteriously sent packing.

Whether these two events are directly related is open to debate and may be nothing more than circumstantial, but according to multiple sources, this seems clear: there is current tension and/or friction within the Red Sox medical department. There is esteemed medical director Tom Gill, appointed by owner John Henry, and there is Reinold, who has the ear of general manager Epstein. And it was the latter, according to a source, who expressed concerns about Bay’s ability to hold up over the long-term.

All of this brings us to where we are today, with Bay and the Red Sox at the brink of a negotiation that might have been resolved months ago.

In retrospect, the events of last winter and spring were revealing. After signing, among others, Kevin Youkilis to a four-year contract worth in excess of $40 million, the Red Sox offered Bay a deal that was worth roughly half that much. The idea was to put Bay in the class of someone like Adam Dunn, who signed a two-year, $20 million deal with the Washington Nationals and who is, as one Sox evaluator described at the time, "a defensive sinkhole."

So now we know: using the associative property, the Red Sox see Bay’s contribution on defense the way the Bruins saw Phil Kessel’s. And based on the events of the last six or seven years, we know that Henry, Epstein, and the Red Sox are not likely to spend truly big dollars on free agents unless all factors are in alignment: age, offense, defense.

Beginning in August 2008, Red Sox' followers now have had ample time to see Bay’s skills up close. He is a committed player and teammate -- manager Terry Francona described him as "conscientious" -- who plays fair defense, runs fairly well, strikes out a ton, hits for power, and draws more than his share of walks. If his long-term health is an issue, there are ways for both the Sox and Urbon to address that in an age where there is a contractual clause for everything.

Three years ago, after all, the Red Sox agreed to a five-year deal with J.D. Drew, who was the same age Bay is now (31) with a considerably more questionable history of health. The Sox nonetheless agreed to pay Drew $70 million, an average of $14 million per season, though the sides reached a snag when Drew essentially failed his physical exam. So what did the Sox and agent Scott Boras do? They negotiated in an escape clause for the Sox after three years, but only if Drew suffered a recurrence of a precise injury in his right (throwing) shoulder. Drew is now entering the fourth year of that contract and there is no looking back.

The point is this: where there's a will, there's a way.

Looking back, did the Red Sox ever really want Bay the way they wanted Drew and, say, Daisuke Matsuzaka? Has Matt Holliday been their preference all along? Early this offseason, one voice in Holliday’s camp curiously suggested that the Sox needed both third baseman Adrian Beltre and Holliday because Boston needed to get more athletic. In the same breath, the same voice then indicated that the New York Yankees wanted to keep Holliday away from Boston because New York deemed him the best positional player on the market.

As of this moment, despite the trade for Curtis Granderson, the Yankees could still use a left fielder. Unsurprisingly, they are stringing along Johnny Damon. If and when Bay signs somewhere outside of Boston -- as Urbon alleges that he is poised to do -- be prepared for the Yankees swooping in and becoming a big factor in the Holliday negotiations, which could leave the Red Sox holding the bag again.

As for Urbon’s assertions, whether they are sincere or not, they come as desperate. Every player is "prepared" to leave the moment he files for free agency. In the end, Bay either goes or he stays. Leveraging the Red Sox in a negotiation is one thing, but making threats public cannot be seen as anything more than a plea to the masses. In the end, neither the Red Sox nor their fans really care who is playing left field next season so long as he can hit.

If we didn’t learn that during Manny Ramirez' time in Boston, we never will.

During this time of year, especially, it is always best to judge negotiations via actions more than words. If Bay wants to leave, he should leave; we don’t need a countdown. And if we look at the Red Sox’ history of signing their own free agents, most everyone of significance has departed save for Jason Varitek and Mike Lowell, the latter of whom has been on the trade market for each of the last two seasons and is now on the verge of being shipped to the Texas Rangers in a deal that will require the Sox to eat $9 million.

In this world, from Jason Bay to the Red Sox and come hell or high water, we all do the things we really want to do.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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