Bay remains a priority for Epstein

Free agency starts at midnight tonight. Teams have negotiating exclusivity with their own free agents until then. If you’re expecting the Red Sox to sign Jason Bay or Alex Gonzalez before then, don’t hold your breath.

Once a player gets this close to free agency, especially for a first-timer like Bay, they want to see what it’s like. Epstein does not know how long that could delay the process of his signing with the Sox or any other team.

Every indication is that the Sox remain the team most likely to sign Bay.

“It’ll last as long as it lasts, until one side does something different. This part of the process is important to him. He’ll see what it’s like and see what’s out there and ultimately make a decision,” Theo Epstein said today at Fenway Park. “We’ve maintained dialogue. It’s not up to us. I think all along we’ve maintained it was likely he was going to go see what was out there.

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“It’s part of the process. For some players, it’s part of the process. You have to get out there and see. There’s two parties to every negotiation and to every potential signing. Needs change and holes get filled and you move on But as long as you maintain good dialogue and neither party gets caught by surprise, it’s reasonable to extend things. … He’s a priority, certainly.”

Epstein said again that he plans to go out and get a shortstop, whether via trade or free agency. Alex Gonzalez remains on their radar. You get the sense that Jed Lowie could start the season in Pawtucket.

“At this point, he [Lowrie] has to prove his health,” Epstein said. “He’s not someone we can depend on right now. I think ultimately he will be. But until he proves his health, we can’t let the season hang in the balance. We can’t allow ourselves to have instability at shortstop again if he’s not able to answer the bell health-wise. I think he will get to that point. But we’re not going to rely on good off-season reports.”

A player can’t prove his health on the bench in the majors.

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Also, it looks as though the 40-man roster may be set as that deadline approaches as well. And look for the coaching staff to he finalized early next week.

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