That’s what the Scott Borases and Jason Bays of the baseball world will be asking for the next few weeks.
At midnight on Thursday, the 15-day window in which teams hold exclusive negotiating rights with their own free agents expires — which means it is open hunting season. Any team can start shopping for any player.
The Red Sox have done their due diligence. Now is when the fun begins for Theo Epstein and Co.
They get to make offers to the players they have targeted.
Bay has already rejected the team’s first proposal. Time will tell if there’s a second, but the Red Sox shouldn’t overpay to keep the left fielder. Bay is a quality player, but if he’s not willing to take $15 million a season for four seasons, don’t expect to see him wearing a Red Sox uniform in 2010.
Some team is going to offer Bay more than $60 million for four years. It could take at least $80 million and five years to lock him up, and it's conceivable that it could end up being an even more expensive and/or longer deal.
The Red Sox don’t need to go there. The offer Boston put on the table is fair for a hitter who struck out 162 times in 2009. No player should be able to hold the club hostage, and no player is worth a blank check.
That is the approach Boston should take with any free agent.
Big names aren’t jumping off the free-agent list like they have in winters past, but there are still some interesting options.
The Red Sox just need to get creative.
Alex Gonzalez remains the best choice at shortstop. He is a better bet than Marco Scutaro, Orlando Cabrera or Miguel Tejada — all Type A free agents who would cost a pair of draft picks to sign. Gonzalez, 32, is younger than any of them and just as talented, especially with the glove. Bring him back for one year at $3-4 million.
Then sign veteran Omar Vizquel for one year at $1-2 million to provide bench support and spot starts at second, short or third. Vizquel might be 42, but don’t worry about him being in shape. He’s taking up bullfighting this offseason and ready to make a run for the title of most interesting man in the world.
Gonzalez and Vizquel could keep the shortstop position warm until Jose Iglesias is ready, and with Dustin Pedroia at second, the Red Sox would have one of the strongest middle infields in the American League.
After answering the shortstop question, Boston could turn its attention to left. Instead of looking to replace Bay’s 36 home runs and 119 RBIs in the lineup, the Red Sox could fill the void by going in a different direction and signing Chone Figgins to patrol the area in front of the Green Monster. Figgins, 31, played third base last season but has started 260 career games in the outfield (213 in center, 24 in left and 23 in right) and could make a seamless transition to that neck of the diamond.
Figgins has never reached double-digits in home runs, but his speed would give Boston another dynamic table setter and run manufacturer. The Red Sox could slot him into the No. 2 or 9 hole to add more explosiveness to the Red Sox’ offense. He could even teach Jacoby Ellsbury — and anyone else willing to learn — the finer points of bunting for base hits.
The best part of the move is that Figgins would cost a lot less than Bay or Matt Holiday (who’s better suited to the National League anyway) and add even more versatility to the roster. All the money the Red Sox save could be used to add an under-the-radar pitcher in free agency, or land a big bat as part of a blockbuster, or both.
The Red Sox don’t need to find a left fielder who matches Bay’s production apples to apples. They could fill that power vacuum by adding another player at another position. The most obvious solution would be Adrian Gonzalez via a trade. If — and it’s a big if — the Red Sox were able to put together a deal to get the slugging first baseman from the Padres, Boston would have a pretty decent lineup.
Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
Dustin Pedroia, 2B
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Victor Martinez, C
Kevin Youkilis, 3B
David Ortiz, DH
J.D. Drew, RF
Alex Gonzalez, SS
Chone Figgins, LF
And that is just one variation. Terry Francona could play around with the arrangement until he found the most lethal combination.
Is it wishful thinking?
No more than finding a way to acquire Felix Hernandez.
Making the unbelievable believable just takes a little bit of ingenuity and guts.
Like most consumers, the word on the street is that most MLB teams will be more prudent with their purchases this holiday season. The Red Sox ranked fourth in the majors with a $121.7 million payroll in 2009. They don’t have to be the biggest spenders on the block to make a statement in 2010.
That doesn’t mean they should return to the flea market looking for low-risk, high-reward investments. It just means they should find some talented players who don’t want the GDP of a small country for a salary.
Because paying top dollar in this economy would be the biggest gamble of all.
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