The Red Sox and Bay had tried to reach common ground last spring on an extension. They tried even harder at the All-Star break. And perhaps to a lesser degree, again this winter, during free agency.
Why did Bay end up in Queens, N.Y., instead of a return engagement with the Red Sox, for whom he hit .281 with 45 homers and 156 RBIs over 200 games?
"It was pretty basic," Bay said at his news conference at Citi Field in New York. "The season ended, and Boston, once you get to the end of the season, they were on the short list. They had the criteria that I was looking for. Ultimately what it boiled down to was the Mets wanted me more. That's the way it felt. It just kind of felt like a fit. Through no fault of anybody's, I ended up here and this is where I wanted to be, and I'm happy about it."
The Red Sox never went beyond four years at $60 million. The Mets offered slightly more in guaranteed money -- $66 million over four years. But New York added a fifth-year option that can vest with plate appearances and make it an $80-million pact.
During his post-news conference scrum with print reporters, Bay was asked if he was surprised the Red Sox didn't make "more of an effort" to keep him.
Again, he took the high road.
"It's the nature of the beast," Bay said. "No one owes you any favors. It's a business. You go out and you go one direction. I understand that. I liked [Boston] -- it was familiar to me, which was big. But I think being there prepared me to be [in New York]. I had a good time there, but I can also use it as good background for my time here."
Instead of re-investing in Bay, the Red Sox have allocated their resources elsewhere, signing free agents John Lackey, Mike Cameron, Adrian Beltre (pending a physical) and Marco Scutaro. General manager Theo Epstein has clearly prioritized defense and run prevention, even if it came at the expense of losing a big bopper like Bay.
"They're always going to make moves," said Bay. "They've got to keep up with the Joneses, so to speak. I think they have a braintrust of people up there that do a number of things. They know what they're doing. [The] Adrian Beltre [signing] went through, so they have a good idea of what's going on and they know what they have to do to compete in that division."
There have been some recent reports that Bay was close to re-signing with the Red Sox at the All-Star break, but things fell through because of some concerns Boston's medical staff had about the player's long-term health.
|"I enjoyed my time, enjoyed my teammates, loved the city, loved the fans. I think it was a real good precursor to being [in New York]."|
|-- Jason Bay, on his tenure with the Red Sox|
And, Bay added, he's healthy. During his news conference, one reporter asked Bay about the state of his shoulders. Bay got a chuckle out of that one.
"I actually never hurt my shoulder. That was another thing, me not refuting much [the past few weeks], it kind of took on a life of its own," Bay said. "I had surgery on it in 2003, and it's been great ever since. I saw Dr. [David] Altchek [of the Mets]. Everything was great. It's just one of those things that kind of took on a life of its own. No concerns, no health concerns whatsoever."
When Bay was traded to Boston on July 31, 2008, he was acquired for a franchise player in Manny Ramirez. That pressure never bothered Bay, who thrived instantly in a big market.
In other words, signing as a high-prized acquisition by the Mets isn't likely going to faze Bay either.
"A lot of people looked at it as that I was replacing Manny. I never did. That probably helped," Bay said. "They had a left-field void and I filled it. It's a lot easier when you have a good supporting cast. There's a lot of good ballplayers over there, and ultimately that was a big decision in me coming here.
"There's a lot of guys on this ballclub that can do some good things. It's not just resting on one or two people to carry a load. I think the experience I went through in Boston can't hurt. It probably wasn't ideal, but it's a situation where you learn a lot about yourself about a player. It can only help here."
Bay said that the Mets were a team he targeted from the outset, knowing the need they had for a run producer. He even asked Billy Wagner, who played for the Red Sox the last couple of months of 2009, about life as a New York Met.
"I actually started this process during the season last year. I picked Billy Wagner's brain on the back of the plane on a couple of road trips, just sitting there and talking and kind of [getting] his thoughts and how he felt," Bay said. "He had very good things to say, organization-wise and everything."
Bay made it clear that his year-and-a-half with the Red Sox was a positive experience.
"I enjoyed my time, enjoyed my teammates, loved the city, loved the fans," Bay said in a post-news conference scrum with print reporters. "I think it was a real good precursor to being here."