Both sides of this Jason Bay standoff want the same thing. Bay has been happy throughout his season and a half in Boston, and he'd love to be back. The Red Sox have been thrilled with the production Bay has given them in the heart of their order, and they're looking to keep him securely in Boston for the long haul. Everyone's on the same page — all that follows is an intense haggling session to work out the numbers.
No one in Boston should be discouraged — or even surprised, for that matter — by Thursday morning's news that Bay had rejected the Red Sox' initial offer. Bay was bound for free agency no matter what — regardless of what the Red Sox left fielder wants in his heart of hearts, it's simply good business to get out there and get some exposure on the market.
Baseball's exclusive period for incumbent teams to negotiate with their free agents-to-be is over. It expired Friday morning at midnight, and the market is now officially open. Offers will now begin to trickle in to Bay and his agent, Joe Urbon, in the coming days and weeks. Soon, we'll find out how the market for Bay really looks.
In the days leading up to Friday morning, the Red Sox had their chance to set the tone. They made an offer that, according to Sports Illustrated's Jon Heyman, was "believed to be for four years and 'close to $60 million,'" a daunting opening bid for any team that dares enter the Bay sweepstakes this winter.
Only the rich will apply. The Red Sox remain the front-runners for Bay, but there will be a handful of other suitors.
The Angels run a distant second behind Boston — owner Arte Moreno mentioned Bay's "great bat and great makeup" this week as reasons to pursue the left fielder. The Halos will be on the market for a heavy-hitting outfielder with the likely departure of Vladimir Guerrero, and Bay would make for a nice, younger model. Their main focus this offseason, however, will be the retention of ace starter John Lackey. Don't be surprised if the Bay mayhem passes them by.
The Mariners are a dark horse to watch out for, but Seattle recently used a first-round draft pick on UNC megastar Dustin Ackley, and they might hesitate to spend big money on outfield talent when they can home-grow it instead.
The Yankees are always a factor. Even if you believe the notion that they're tightening the purse strings this winter, you still have to expect the Bronx Bombers to put in an offer. If nothing else, it's good to posture and drive up the price for the Red Sox.
In the National League, Bay would be an absolute terror — watch out for the Cubs, Cardinals, Dodgers and Mets. Any one of them could swoop in and make Bay an offer he can't refuse.
At some point in the next few weeks, Bay will end up listening to most, if not all, of the above teams. They'll all make their pitches for the 31-year-old free agent, and Bay will surely humor them all and listen. But in the end, there can only be one winner, and the Red Sox are still securely in the driver's seat.
Getting a deal done won't be easy. It won't happen overnight. There will be bargaining, there will be haggling, there will be a vicious bidding war guaranteed to thin the field and knock out all the pretenders.
Bay is in a great position. Baseball's richest teams are about to begin a long fight for his services, and their weapons will be millions. But there's only one way the war can end.
When all's said and done, Bay will be back in Boston. Everyone will say their piece, and Bay will listen. But it's ultimately all just posturing. We all know where Bay will end up.