Jason Bay Among Best Corner Outfielders Eyeing Free Agency


September 3, 2009

All it took was one dazzling month to make the market for corner outfielders this coming offseason just that much more interesting.

With the Yankees leading the universe in offense, Hideki Matsui was at the center of it all, slugging eight home runs, driving in 25, and putting up a .918 OPS in August. The Bronx Bombers are now poised to run away with the AL East, unless the Red Sox make a serious surge.

Out West, Vladimir Guerrero went on a tear of his own, putting up a 1.014 OPS and getting big hit after big hit for the first-place Angels. Out in L.A., they're poised to lock up their fifth division title in six years.

In the senior circuit, Matt Holliday is clearing fences and taking names since being traded from Oakland to St. Louis. With a .606 slugging percentage in his first month, Holliday is yet another example of the American League dominance that's become painfully obvious to everyone here in Boston.

And speaking of Boston…

All these events of the past month have to be particularly taxing for Jason Bay. Not that Bay hasn't put up quite impressive numbers himself (with a 1.097 OPS and nine homers, he has), but the Red Sox' left fielder has to be feeling the pressure building around him as every outfielder on the market makes his respective case.

Matsui, Guerrero, Holliday and Bay will all be free agents at the conclusion of the 2009 season. And while all of them are a little bit past their primes, they're having no trouble letting the world know that they're still poised to make a serious impact for a contender.

Do players perform better in contract years? It's a source of endless debate among baseball minds, but these guys seem to be strong examples for the affirmative. So what does this mean for the Red Sox?

If you'll remember, we heard rumors over a month ago that the Sox were planning to sit down with Bay and resume negotiations on extending his contract in Boston. Bay signed a four-year, $18.25 million extension with the Pirates in November of 2005, a deal that was shipped to Boston at the trading deadline last season and is now set to expire. The Sox' front office is now running out of time to get an extension done, as they risk letting Bay sneak out onto the open market.

Jason Bay in pinstripes? How does that mental picture look?

The market for corner outfielders this offseason is looking more uncertain every day. The marquee names just won't stop putting up huge numbers, and if they keep slugging, then they're bound to keep asking for big-money contracts. For anyone already happy with their big bat and hoping to keep him — not just in Boston, but also in New York, L.A. and St. Louis — the safe move would be locking him up now.

And yet no one seems to be doing that. Rumors are floating around about Holliday, as usual, but nothing concrete is happening. And that's got to worry you a little bit — maybe we're due for a shakeup this winter. Maybe the big names will make big moves.

The Sox still might try to bring Bay back, but only at the right price. If things don't work out, there could always be someone else on the horizon.

Explosive August numbers aside, Bay is probably the best player in the free-agent class, long-term. He has the potential to be a star in Boston not just now, but for the next half-decade, at least.

That potential will come at a price. If the Sox are willing to pony up the dough, then they still might keep Bay yet. But we've heard very little on that front since Opening Day, which is more than a little ominous.

From here on out, every day that passes is another day that Bay and company inch closer to the open market. This could turn into a very interesting winter.

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