Bay remains Sox's top priority

Bay remains Sox's top priority

INDIANAPOLIS -- Now that the Red Sox and Jason Bay's representatives are gathered under the same roof for the next few days at the Winter Meetings, can progress toward a reunion be made?

Perhaps. But there are other teams in search of a durable left fielder who is viewed as a great teammate and a consistent run producer.

To be sure, one of the teams the Sox will compete with for Bay is the same one that swept them out of the American League Division Series in October.

"He's a guy we find appealing, and we'll see where it takes us," said Angels general manager Tony Reagins, who spoke a few hours after reported that his club had "opened talks" with Bay.

The Angels might not be only AL West team interested in Bay. Reports continue to surface that the Mariners could be players for the left fielder, who lives in the Seattle area during the offseason.

Then, there are the Red Sox, who started talks with Bay last March, but have to this point been unable to find common ground.

"He's definitely one of our priorities, certainly," said Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein. "And I'm sure it's something we'll be spending time on at these Meetings."

It was reported in November that the Red Sox offered Bay a four-year, $60 million deal. To this point, the club and Bay's agent, Joe Urbon, haven't publicly confirmed that, or said if other offers have been exchanged.

The Red Sox offered Bay arbitration last week, but the slugger informed the club Monday he was declining the offer, as was expected.

Because Bay is a Type A free agent, the Red Sox will receive compensatory Draft picks should Bay sign with another team.

Epstein has a great disdain for making any of his contract negotiations public, so he wouldn't say if he planned to meet Urbon on Monday. But you can be sure the Red Sox will have some direct dialogue with Urbon in Indianapolis. The Meetings conclude on Thursday afternoon.

"While we're here, we'll get together," said Epstein.

"[Jason Bay] has an understated demeanor. I think he's very aware of what's going on, but he doesn't let it bother him. He's even-keeled and, obviously, very likable."
-- Terry Francona

Epstein has "a lot of balls in the air" at the moment, with so many potential moves related to others. In that sense, the Red Sox will have a more definitive plan of attack once they know what is going on in left field. Will the process with Bay speed up in Indianapolis?

"Not necessarily," Epstein said. "Sometimes it helps the process to have these landmarks, whether they're artificial or not, like the Winter Meetings. Sometimes that can speed things up. Sometimes it can slow it down."

While Red Sox manager Terry Francona was clearly fond of Bay during their season-and-a-half together, he doesn't think it's appropriate to make a recruiting pitch.

Yes, Francona has spoken with Bay since the 2009 season ended. But the topic has been far lighter than the business of baseball.

"Just nothing about the contract, just a little about fantasy football," said Francona. "I'm not comfortable giving him that Sunday morning, 'Hey, you going to sign with us?' He's earned his right. We have all talked about it and he's talked about it, and he's really been very professional about it all year. But he's earned this right, so now you've got to be patient and let the process work itself out."

While there will be other alternatives for the Red Sox if they can't keep Bay, there would be a comfort if he does return, knowing that he can handle the market.

"Well, that and those 37 home runs," said Francona. "There's a lot. That's why other teams want him, too. You know, he plays all the time. He has an understated demeanor. I think he's very aware of what's going on, but he doesn't let it bother him. He's even-keeled and, obviously, very likable.

"There's not much to not like. That's why he's going to get a big contract."

If Bay slips out of Boston's grasp, the Red Sox could intensify their efforts to land another free-agent slugger who plays left field -- Matt Holliday.

Boston could also acquire a right-handed bat to platoon with Jeremy Hermida in left field if it can't keep Bay or sign Holliday.

As the Red Sox continue to monitor the situation in left field, they will also keep their options open on other fronts.

While a blockbuster with the Blue Jays for Roy Halladay was rumored a couple of weeks ago, the Red Sox, according to sources, won't go down that road unless the acquisition cost drops. Much like with Johan Santana two winters ago, Boston won't mortgage its future, even for a pitcher at Halladay's level.

Boston has a starting five of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield. But Epstein will try to deepen his rotation before the start of Spring Training. Rich Harden, who has a history of injuries but also a gifted right arm, is one intriguing possibility.

"We have five starters," Epstein said. "If we had to start the season today, we'd feel good about that, and we have some young pitchers in the upper Minors who could project in the rotation. That said, you always need more than you have and you always need more than you think you need. It would be nice to find a way to add some rotation depth, whether it's now or during the season."

The Red Sox did make a depth move in the bullpen on Monday, signing free-agent reliever Scott Atchison to a one-year non-guaranteed contract that includes options for 2011 and '12. Atchison spent the past two years in Japan.

Ian Browne is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.