Talks with Bay put on hold

Negotiations will renew after season

JASON BAYHopeful of deal JASON BAYHopeful of deal
By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / July 18, 2009
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TORONTO - While Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein called his latest offer to Jason Bay “aggressive,’’ that was apparently not enough, for now. About a week after handing his offer to Bay’s agent, Joe Urbon, Epstein announced for the second time this year that the club and Bay had tabled discussions on a new contract for the left fielder, who becomes a free agent after the season.

“It’s now clear that this round of talks won’t result in a deal, either,’’ Epstein said. “As a result, we’re going to table discussions again, which once again is a mutual decision, and pick them up most likely after the season.’’

That does not necessarily mean that Bay is eager to test the free agent market. While that would likely garner him bigger offers, especially with the Yankees in need of a left fielder for 2010 and beyond, Bay said he could resume talks with the Red Sox before filing for free agency. The sides, Bay said, have made progress since they first broke off talks in spring training.

“I’m not trying to set a precedent,’’ Bay said. “Just looking for something that’s fair. Whether that’s changed over the last three months, you guys can determine that.

“It’s the same situation we were in in spring training, where they were at a place where they were comfortable and we were at a place where we’re comfortable and we didn’t bridge the gap. That being said, it doesn’t really mean it’s the end of the world, either. Just didn’t really want it to become a distraction, not so much to myself but to the entire team. So we decided to kind of table that until later, which probably will be till the end of the season.’’

Asked if he was encouraged by the latest round of talks, Bay said, “Yeah . . . They have come a long way and, like I said, it’s not really the end-all, be-all. Definitely more encouraged with the way things went this time, a lot more, actually, that hopefully we get something done.’’

Bay said the Sox had made “great strides and I appreciate it.’’

Bay is in the final year of a contract extension that he signed with Pittsburgh. His salary is $7.5 million this season, about half of what he’s looking for yearly in a new deal, which would be for around four years.

The problem in spring training was that the sides could not agree on the market for outfielders, which had dipped amid a deepening recession. Epstein said yesterday that does not appear to be the issue any longer. As he said, “When a player is a year or less than a year away from free agency, oftentimes he has to factor in the best-case scenario of free agency and a club has to focus maybe less on the free agent market and more on the expected performance going forward.’’

The general manager stressed that the talks, which restarted in mid-June, were amicable, and that there was disappointment that a deal could not be reached.

“I think we were really hopeful with the aggressive offer that we made that we could have reached a deal now,’’ Epstein said. “But we have complete respect for Jason as a player and a person and for what free agency means to players. He’s worked his whole career and had a really consistent career to get to a point where he can set his family up for life. We’re not going to begrudge him. We’re not going to hold anything against him because he makes a decision that he may want to wait and be able to consider every possible opportunity.’’

The sides can sit down again after the World Series, when they’ll have 15 days before Bay has to decide if he’ll file for free agency.

“I am in no position to say that I want to file for free agency and see what’s out there,’’ he said. “I’d still love to get something done here. I like it here. But that being said, we just basically at this point right now don’t want it to be an ongoing distraction, like I said, for both of us coming to the field and answering contract questions.

“So we’re kind of tabling it and there’s a big window after the season. We can sit down and try to hammer something out again. But the way things have gone so far, like I said, very encouraged with that.’’

Adam Kilgore of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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