Why Jason Bay is still unsigned

A few e-mailers asked today why the Red Sox had not yet signed Jason Bay.

Here’s the answer: What’s the upside for Jason Bay?

Players need six years of service time to become free agents. That’s a huge chunk of time in the career of any player. Once that opportunity comes, it’s hard to pass up.

Players get leverage twice in their careers: when they are unsigned amateurs and when they become free agents. Draft picks can hold out for more money or go back to school and as a result, teams often pay them more than they are really worth. The same is true of international signees.

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But once a player signs, the team has the upper hand for six years. The player has to accept whatever contract is offered for three years then is subject to arbitration, a process they have little control over. They can be traded, demoted, etc.

So once a player like Bay becomes a free agent, the temptation is great to see what the other 29 teams think. Right now, all Bay knows is how much the Red Sox value him. But starting Nov. 20, he can find out what his true value is.

In the end, I suspect, the sides will agree to terms. The Red Sox won’t want Bay in the market too long as that increases the odds of his going elsewhere. Bay won’t want to drift around without a team, either. Most players like having their business wrapped up quickly. It’s easier on their families.

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