Sox should lock up Jason Bay sooner rather than later

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This entry was posted on 4/25/2009 3:45 PM and is filed under uncategorized.

BOSTON – With each passing game and big-time clutch hit, the price tag just keeps rising higher for Red Sox left fielder Jason Bay.

The free agent-to-be and his representation flirted with the front office about a potential contract extension during spring training, but – with the club placing the finishing touches on Jon Lester’s pact and getting the club ready for a long baseball season – nothing was ever set into definitive motion and both sides agreed to temporarily step away from the negotiating table.

The 30-year-old Bay is on an early pace for 35 plus homers and 120 plus RBIs while also pushing to eclipse the 100-walk plateau for the second time in his career, and both the quick-wristed fly-ball swing and formidable power to left and left-center field make him a perfect fit for Fenway Park. 

He’s been a 30 home run, 100 RBI machine in four of his last seasons, and only once missed that level when knee problems plagued him back during the 2007 season with the Pittsburgh Pirates – a place where Bay was expected to be “The Man” rather than another talented spoke in the Sox wheel. That’s called consistency, and it’s priority Number One on the soft-spoken Canadian’s list when he heads into each and every new baseball season. It’s the kind of consistency that a team should feel pretty comfortable investing in.

Bay has been a seamless fit in the clubhouse since arriving on the last day of the big league trading deadline last season, and he gives the Sox the kind of pop – particularly from the right side of the plate -- that Boston doesn’t have an overwhelming reservoir of in their minor league system. It’s why they traded for Wily Mo Pena prior to the 2006 baseball season, and it’s why they traded Pena for the lefty-swinging Christ Carter last season – and it’s exactly why now is the time to pony up the payroll and reward the guy that his teammates call “Jay Bay”.

Sox catcher Jason Varitek has always been a reasonable, level-headed barometer for exactly what the Olde Towne Team needs to be successful, and he’s never been shy about backing the retention of a needed teammate during a period of contractual uncertainty. A right-hander power hitting All-Star-type talent – economic downturn or no economic downturn – is clearly going to be get his money if he’s allowed to enter the free agent market following the 2009 season just as Mark Teixeira, A.J. Burnett and C.C. Sabathia got last season. 

It’s also clear reading between Varitek’s words that the Sox Captain doesn’t want Jay Bay to get away. 

“He’s just a good all-around player. He’s solid at everything he does,” said Sox catcher Jason Varitek, who has never been somebody that’s bashful about campaigning for the re-signing of current Sox players vital to the heartbeat of the team. “He’s just an all-around good baseball player, and he’s a huge part of this team.”

The only other name on the 2010 free agent market suitable both for a left field spot and Bay’s position in the batting order is Oakland’s Matt Holliday. But the former Rockies slugger has done nothing to quiet cries of “Coors Field inflation” during an underwhelming start that has him on a .254 batting average and zero home run start in 14 games for the Athletics.

Couple that with some dubious home/road splits that Holliday put up while playing with the Rox – and the apparent obsession with the Yanks that’s a mandatory part of the Scott Boras clientele – and the choice is clear.

Jay Bay should be a Red Sox for the next 3-5 years and he should top the $14 million per season that J.D. Drew is getting paid to gingerly patrol right field at the Fens as Boston’s highest-paid positional player. Bay’s been everything the Sox hoped he would be when they finally pulled the plug on the $20 million production of “Manny Being Manny” last July, and there’s no reason to think he won’t continue being that guy into his mid-thirties.

The Bay watch is on for a contract extension, and it’s time for the Sox to step up and lock down another integral piece to the baseball puzzle. 


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