In what might be little more than posturing -- it would be irresponsible, after all, to close the door this early -- Jason Bay's agent told several reporters on Saturday that the left fielder is prepared to turn his attention to the other offers on the table.
"We don't agree with their evaluation of the player," agent Joe Urbon said. "Frankly, we have other offers on the table that are of greater interest to Jason."
The educated guess is that Theo Epstein would be willing to overpay a little bit for Bay in the short-term but thus far have refused to lock the Red Sox into a five-year contract. Bay turned 31 years old in September, and he would go into the final season of a five-year deal at the age of 35, turning 36 in time for that year's playoffs.
There's little doubt the left fielder's already limited range would diminish as he turned 34 and 35 years old.
With the contract of David Ortiz expiring after the 2010 season, however, there might be a spot for Bay as the Red Sox designated hitter -- if his bat holds up, that is, better than his range in the outfield.
Making predictions can be tricky. That's the biggest reason the Red Sox are so reluctant to give out five-year contracts to players already on the wrong side of 30 -- or, at least, five-year contracts to players not named J.D. Drew on the wrong side of 30.
(Drew has quite a bit to do with these negotiations -- and it's not just the fact that his contract, both in length and in amount, is a baseline for Bay. Drew might still be an above-average right fielder at age 33 or age 34, but it behooves the Red Sox to keep the option open to move him to left field either in 2010 or 2011. If Bay balks at the idea of being the heir to David Ortiz as the team's full-time designated hitter, there might not be room for both Bay and Drew in the Red Sox outfield in 2011.)
Trying to predict how well Bay will play defense in five years is one thing. Trying to predict how well Bay will hit, though, might be even more important. Let's take a look at the similar hitters on Bay's Baseball-Reference.com page and see how well they would have justified the type of contract Bay appears to want:
(For the sake of comparison, to this point in his career, Bay has a slash line of .280/.376/.519 and an OPS+ of 131. At the age of 30, Bay had a slash line of .267/.384/.537 and an OPS+ of 134.)
Ryan Klesko: 145 OPS+ at age 30
Age 31: .300/.388/.537 (OPS+ of 152)
Age 32: .252/.354/.456 (118)
Age 33: .291/.399/.448 (129)
Age 34: .248/.358/.418 (110)
Age 35: Missed season with shoulder injury
Geoff Jenkins: 130 OPS+ at age 30
Age 31: .271/.357/.434 (OPS+ of 101)
Age 32: .255/.319/.471 (101)
Age 33: .301/.392/.392 (79)
Age 34: Released before the end of spring training
Tim Salmon: 119 OPS+ at age 30
Age 31: .290/.404/.540 (OPS+ of 135)
Age 32: .227/.365/.383 (98)
Age 33: .286/.380/.503 (133)
Age 34: .275/.374/.464 (122)
Age 35: .253/.306/.323 (67)
Bobby Higginson: 120 OPS+ at age 30
Age 31: .282/.345/.417 (OPS+ of 109)
Age 32: .235/.320/.369 (88)
Age 33: .246/.353/.388 (98)
Age 34: .077/.111/.077 (minus-48)
Age 35: Out of baseball
Jim Edmonds: 146 OPS+ at age 30
Age 31: .304/.410/.564 (OPS+ of 149)
Age 32: .311/.420/.561 (158)
Age 33: .275/.385/.617 (160)
Age 34: .301/.418/.643 (170)
Age 35: .263/.385/.533 (137)
George Foster: 155 OPS+ at age 30
Age 31: .273/.362/.473 (OPS+ of 131)
Age 32: .295/.373/.519 (150)
Age 33: .247/.309/.367 (90)
Age 34: .241/.289/.419 (95)
Age 35: .269/.311/.443 (111)
Willie Stargell: 125 OPS+ at age 30
Age 31: .295/.398/.628 (OPS+ of 185)
Age 32: .293/.373/.558 (163)
Age 33: .299/.392/.646 (186)
Age 34: .301/.407/.537 (167)
Age 35: .295/.375/.516 (147)
Richard Hidalgo: OPS+ of 128 at age 30
Age 31: Played in Japan
Age 32: Released in spring training
Kevin Mitchell: OPS+ of 118 at age 30
Age 31: .341/.385/.601 (OPS+ of 159)
Age 32: .326/.429/.681 (185)
Age 33: Played in Japan
Age 34: .316/.420/.505 (138)
Age 35: .153/.275/.373 (66)
The 10th player on the list, actually, is Drew, but his data has to be thrown out because he hasn't played his age 34 or age 35 seasons yet -- the seasons most relevant to the Urbon-Epstein debate.
Of the above nine, only Edmonds and Stargell would have justified a $15 million salary at the age of 35. Klesko was all but done. Salmon was all but done. Mitchell was all but done. Hidalgo, Higginson and Jenkins were already done. Foster was productive but not exactly a middle-of-the-order type of hitter.
(The steroid era makes comparisons difficult given the way chemical assistance prolonged careers but also caused injuries and precipitous drops in production. It is what it is. There's no way around it.)
In the last five seasons, 44 outfielders have qualified for the batting title at the age of 34 or older. Seventeen have compiled an OPS+ of 120 or better. Eight have compiled an OPS+ of 130 or better.
Of the 26 outfielders who have qualified for the batting title at age 35 this decade, 12 have put up an OPS+ of 120 or better. Among those who fell short: Bobby Abreu, Sammy Sosa, Magglio Ordonez, Bernie Williams, Brian Giles, Jermaine Dye and Moises Alou.
(The tale of Ordonez ought to be particularly cautionary -- especially he signed for the same five-year, $75 million deal an educated guess has Bay being willing to accept.)
Any way you look at it, it's a 50-50 shot -- or worse -- that Bay will be a $15 million hitter, let alone fielder, by the time he's 35 years old. It's tough to blame his agent for holding out for a fifth year. It's tough to blame the Red Sox, though, for being so reluctant to give it to him.