The All-Star Game presents us with a wonderful opportunity to take a break from the day-to-day grind of baseball and instead shift our focus to the day-to-day grind of asking Jason Bay if he's signed a long-term contract yet.
Someone has to say it: Barring a big concession on either side, he's not going to sign a long-term contract during the season. Barring something unforeseen happening, he's not going to sign a long-term contract with the Red Sox during the offseason, either. Chances are good, in fact, that he's going to get an offer he can't refuse from Brian Cashman and the New York Yankees -- say, $75 million over five years -- and be donning pinstripes come next April.
If that's the case, he'll be lustily booed each of the nine or 10 times he sets foot at Fenway Park throughout the length of his contract.
And that would be a shame.
Jason Bay is a terrific baseball player. One of the best. His OPS ranks him 14th in the American League, right in between Mark Teixeira and Evan Longoria, and that's including his June swoon. He's hit 20 home runs and driven in 72 runs this season, for those who care about that sort of thing. He's seeing 4.01 pitches per at-bat, for those who care about that sort of thing.
(He's not so much with the defense, however. According to the Ultimate Zone Rating statistic, he's consistently a below-average left fielder.)
But he's generally a terrific baseball player as well as a terrific guy with the media -- he's easily the most accessible Red Sox player in the clubhouse -- and someone any fan would be thrilled to have playing in Boston for the next three or four years.
But he's also the type of guy who someone will overpay. It might be the Yankees. It might be the Seattle Mariners, a team that (a) plays in his hometown, and (b) has the best defensive center fielder in the game, a player who might help alleviate Bay's defensive shortcomings. It might be a suitor to be named later. (The Cleveland Indians, perhaps? Grady Sizemore was in Bay's wedding, after all.)
Theo Epstein's Red Sox have tended to target specific players they like, on-base guys, guys who fit into their budget frame. They've made mistakes -- Julio Lugo as the prime example -- but haven't been willing to break the bank except in rare cases like a right-in-his-prime slugger like Mark Teixeira.
For all the money Boston spends in salary, in fact, the Red Sox and Astros are the only teams with a payroll among baseball's top 10 that does not feature a player making $15 million or more million. (J.D. Drew, the Red Sox's highest-paid player, will make $14 million this season.)
Here's the list of $15 million-or-more players on the 10 payrolls in baseball this season:
1. Yankees: Alex Rodriguez ($32 million), Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter, CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Mariano Rivera
2. Mets: Johan Santana ($20 million), Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado
3. Cubs: Carlos Zambrano ($17.75 million), Alfonso Soriano
4. Tigers: Magglio Ordonez ($18 million), Miguel Cabrera
5. Phillies: Ryan Howard ($15 million)
6. Red Sox: None.
7. Angels: Torii Hunter ($17.5 million), Vladimir Guerrero
8. Dodgers: Manny Ramirez ($25 million)
9. Astros: None. (Lance Berkman makes $14.5 million.)
10. Mariners: Ichiro Suzuki ($17.5 million)
Look at that list. You'd think it would represent a cross-section of the best players in the game, but we all know it doesn't.
Guerrero, Jeter, Ordonez and Soriano all are wildly overpaid for what they've produced this season. Jeter ranks 44th in the major leagues in OPS+; Soriano ranks 162nd, and Ordonez ranks 173rd. Guerrero is on the disabled list.
Part of the reason: Every single one of the above four players is older than 31 -- the age Bay will be at the end of this season. Soriano is 33, Guerrero is 34, and Jeter and Ordonez are 35 -- the ages during which Bay will be playing at the tail end of a four- or five-year contract.
If the Yankees or Mariners offer Bay $15 million a year for four or five years, Epstein probably would be right to let his left fielder go.
And Bay would be right to take it.
Johnny Damon has been booed vociferously in Boston ever since he jilted the Red Sox for a four-year, $52 million deal with the Yankees. The key, Damon said, was that the Red Sox weren't willing to offer a fourth year -- so he instead took an offer that included a fourth year at $13 million a year.
If Damon had stuck with the Red Sox -- be it out of loyalty or because his wife loves shopping in Newbury Street -- his contract would have expired after last season. He would have found himself in the middle of the worst free-agent market since baseball first debuted free-agent markets. He would have cost himself close to $10 million.
Bay has a family that grew up in a blue-collar town in British Columbia. His father has worked at the factory in town for more than 30 years. He has two daughters -- one is almost 3, one still is not yet 10 months old. How could he justify leaving $10 million on the table -- or more?
For as well as he's fit as a member of the Red Sox, Jason Bay likely will be gone at the end of the season.
Don't blame the Red Sox. Don't blame Bay.
It'll be what's best for everyone.