Over the coming months, those two words should strike fear in the hearts of Red Sox fans keeping an eye on 2010 and beyond. The Sox' front office is running out of time to make a play for a Jason Bay contract extension, and before long, they're going to have to vie for him on the open market.
That's a risky proposition — especially considering that Bay's stock just keeps rising. The Sox outfielder came down with the flu this weekend, but showed no signs of slowing, returning on Sunday afternoon in Baltimore and celebrating his 31st birthday with a home run and a RBI single. He went deep again on Monday in Kansas City, giving him home runs in four straight games.
With this latest power surge from Bay (and there have been several this season), the man is starting to look mighty comparable to Mark Teixeira, the best player on the best team in baseball. Don't believe it? Check out the numbers.
Bay: .269 average, .388 on-base, .555 slugging, 36 home runs, 113 RBIs.
Teixeira: .290, .381, .567, 37, 118.
It's a virtual deadlock — the only significant difference is in the batting averages, and what Bay lacks in singles and doubles, he makes up for by being more patient at the plate and walking more. The Red Sox have a legitimate superstar under contractual control, and he's making the case that he deserves the type of eight-year, $180 million megadeal that Teixeira landed with the Yankees last winter.
This comparison had to come sometime. Teixeira was easily the best everyday player available on the open market last offseason, and the Yankees paid handsomely for his services. Bay, for his part, will surely be the best player on this year's market — with all due respect to Matt Holliday, who's a fine player on a good Cardinals team but couldn't prove himself in the tougher American League.
So can the Red Sox afford Bay? Maybe, but that's not their style. Since Manny Ramirez left town (and it's no coincidence that he was traded for the modest, self-effacing Bay), the Red Sox have never been the team to overspend on one player.
Let's be clear: The Red Sox aren't cheap — their payroll this season is over the $120 million mark for the sixth year in a row — but the money is spread out more evenly than in the Bronx. There are no $20 million paychecks to be seen. Their highest-paid player, J.D. Drew, is pulling in $14 million this year. For the biggest earner on a World Series contender, that's pretty modest.
Eventually, the Sox will have to decide whether keeping Bay is worth sacrificing their principles. Bay may be a modest guy on and off the field, but if there are nine-figure deals out there for the taking, he's going to explore his options.
Bay makes $7.5 million this season. He's worth way, way more than that, and at this point, he knows it. This winter could be his chance to make up for lost time.
The Red Sox, however, have become a risk-averse team. Especially when dealing with players on the wrong side of their 30th birthdays. Red Sox GM Theo Epstein is never more confident than when doling out one-year contracts. That method won't cut it with Bay.
The Sox are probably already afraid. They know the deal. In fact, The Boston Globe's Chad Finn reported last week that "there was a wild rumor that the Sox broke off talks when Bay's agent mentioned 'Teixeira money.'"
At this point, both sides are just posturing. With the team in the midst of a pennant race, the real negotiations will probably have to wait until November — there's plenty of time for bluffing and lowballing.
Eventually, though, the two sides will have to get down to business. And the Red Sox will have a tough decision to make.