Bay watch: Spotlight on newcomer

Cafardo on Bay

The Globe's Nick Cafardo discusses the impact Jason Bay will have on the Red Sox after being acquired in a trade that sent Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers.
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / August 1, 2008

Head downstairs to the basement of Jason Bay's parents' house in Trail, British Columbia, a place not exactly abutting New England, and a harbinger of yesterday's trade awaits. There one finds vestiges of Bay's father's obsession, posters of Jim Rice and Carl Yastrzemski, odes to two of the best Boston has produced.

"I could almost see him smiling through the phone," Bay said yesterday by telephone from Pittsburgh of telling his father, David, about the trade that made him a Red Sox. "That's kind of special to me. That's pretty neat, getting to play in the same spot as the guys he idolized."

The same spot as Ted Williams and Yastrzemski and Rice and Manny Ramírez, the player Bay will replace in left field for Boston. With the Sox dealing Ramírez to the Dodgers and Craig Hansen and Brandon Moss to the Pirates, their haul for a future Hall of Famer and a pair of prospects was the righthanded-hitting Bay, the 2004 National League Rookie of the Year and a two-time All-Star.

But perhaps that comparison is a lot of pressure for Bay, a player who has never been in a postseason game - or even a postseason chase - in his six years in the major leagues, especially as the Sox try to right themselves in hopes of reaching the playoffs.

"I'm not trying to replace anybody, which I think is [how] a lot of people are going to look at it," said Bay, who turns 30 Sept. 20. "I'm not trying to be Manny Ramírez. Let's be honest, he's one of the best players in the game. I'm not going to hit 50 homers. I like to say I do a handful of things that are going to stand out. I try to be solid. First and foremost, I'm just trying to be me."

It's a long way from Pittsburgh to Boston, but so, too, is it a long way from Trail to Boston ("Isn't exactly a puddle jumper," Bay joked). From Trail to Gonzaga University, Bay distinguished himself as a hitter, if not a particularly great fielder. Selected in the 22d round of the 2000 draft by Montreal, Bay reached the majors in 2003 with the Padres before being traded to the Pirates, with whom he was named Rookie of the Year.

And while he followed up that season with even better ones the next two years, he faltered in 2007 with a .247 average, 21 home runs, and 84 RBIs. It might have been the right knee trouble that plagued him (after left knee problems in '06), or simply a dip in production. Either way, Bay, who will make $5.75 million this season and is due $7.5 million in 2009, said he is confident his struggles are behind him. "I'm the guy I was the three years before that, putting up the numbers," he said. "It's not an excuse, maybe a reason. I'm the guy I had been before, not the guy I was last year."

"Last year, he just had a miserable year," said a source close to Bay. "They were really down on him. If they could have, they would have traded him, but they couldn't get the value back. He's been more patient at the plate. He's got a wristy swing. To me, he's more of a pull hitter, so he's going to hit some home runs in Fenway because of the way he puts the bat in his hands. I think he's a little bit weak on offspeed stuff. Changeups give him fits, lefthanded pitchers.

"He's not going to be Manny Ramírez. Everybody's got to understand that."

Though Bay's numbers this season - .282, 22 home runs, 64 RBIs, .519 slugging percentage - look remarkably similar to those put up by Ramírez (.299, 20, 68, .529), Ramírez has a significantly different body of work. And Bay doesn't bring much more on defense, though the dimensions of Fenway should help. ("It's about 411 in the gap in PNC and 380 behind me," Bay said of Pittsburgh's home park. "It'll be a lot less running that I don't think anyone would be too upset about.")

And, certainly, Bay and Ramírez don't put the same sort of scare into opposing managers, especially as the season winds down. But that's fine with Bay. Having already gone through this scenario when he was traded for Brian Giles in 2003, Bay understands a bit of what to expect. He knows there will be comparisons, and realizes the folly of that.

Still, he values the move from the relative anonymity in Pittsburgh to the bustle and pressure of Boston. He had been outspoken at the end of last season and in the offseason about his desire to see the Pirates make an effort to build a winning team. That, of course, is no longer his concern. As he finished dinner last night with his family, reflecting on what brought him to this point, he knew he had to board a plane this morning for Boston, where he is expected to be in the lineup tonight against Oakland.

No longer will he be languishing in last place, again.

"I've almost been traded in the offseason, maybe to the Braves," Bay said. "It was something that was probably inevitable, given the state of the franchise, them getting rid of [Xavier] Nady and [Damaso] Marte to the Yankees. This was something from the offseason that I had anticipated would happen."

That eases the transition, though it doesn't help with friendships, despite the text messages he got yesterday from Red Sox first baseman Sean Casey.

When Nady was dealt to the Yankees last weekend, Bay lost his best friend on the Pirates. So, according to a Pirates beat reporter, on the team message board in the clubhouse Bay put up a note letting his teammates know that he was taking applications for a new best friend.

That's not a bad idea, considering that Nady is now a Yankee and Bay a Red Sox.

"This adds a whole new element to the friendship," Bay said. "We'll have to play it by ear. If I've got to hate him for an extended period of time, that's what I'll have to do."

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at

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