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Jason Bay, Kevin Youkilis are past tense

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  November 13, 2012 11:37 AM

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Consider it a public-service announcement, consider a plea for common sense in this crucial winter for the Boston Red Sox, but however you consider it, I just ask that you do:

Please stop pining for certain Red Sox exes who were fine players here, moved on, lost much of their ability/appeal, and are now available to come back.

If you're not among those who have suggested through various mediums -- Twitter, chat, AIM, beeper, AOL email account, uninspiring sports radio program, whatever -- that the Red Sox should pursue Kevin Youkilis and Jason Bay this offseason, I applaud you for having the wisdom to recognize that the two once-excellent, now-fading or fully faded hitters are no solution at this point. Or at least for being too lazy to contact me to suggest it.

They are not the answers to any question but this one: "Name two former Boston players the Red Sox should not acquire this offseason. Whoa, not so fast there on David Ross.''

I do understand to some degree why a Boston sequel for Youkilis and, to a lesser degree, Bay, would appeal to Red Sox fans. Both were here -- and essential here -- when things were good. After the miserable season the Red Sox just endured, following up a miserable September 2011, baseball may have lost you, and it's tempting to look to better days for a solution.

But this is not in the same ballpark as lamenting that Adrian Beltre was only here for a year, nor is it the same thing as the inevitable why-can't-we-get-players-like-that cliches if/when Carl Crawford or Adrian Gonzalez thrive in Los Angeles. All evidence suggests that the Red Sox parted with Youkilis and Bay at the appropriate times.

youksox113finn.jpgIn parting, Youkilis became somewhat of a sympathetic figure because of the nonsense he had to endure from Bobby Valentine, but the truth is much colder than any warm sentiments he may have left behind after eight-plus seasons, two World Championships, two top-six finishes in the American League Most Valuable Player balloting, and countless slammed batting helmets. He'll be 34 in March, hasn't played more than 136 games since 2008, and is coming off far and away the worst season of his career, hitting .235 with 19 homers between Boston and Chicago. In a free-agent market that offers slim pickings at the corner infield positions, he's liable to get paid for what he's been in the past rather than what he will be going forward. The Red Sox will not be the ones who pay for a front-row seat to his inevitable injury-plagued decline.

The desire to bring back Bay on anything other than a non-roster invitee to spring training is more mystifying. Sure, he was a dependable, productive, easy-to-like player during his season-and-half in Boston (2008-09). Coming over from the Pirates in the 2008 trading deadline blockbuster that ended the Manny Ramirez era in Boston, he won us over immediately with his easygoing personality, tales of growing up as perhaps the only kid in the history of Trail, British Columbia who had a Carl Yastrzemski poster on his bedroom wall, and instant production, which provided a reasonable replica of what Manny might have done without any of the melodrama. He was a stable, core player on a pair of playoff teams, and the Red Sox lineup sure could use someone like the guy who hit 36 homers with a .921 OPS in '09.

But anyone who has paid attention to all that has befallen Bay since he signed a four-year, $65 million deal with the Mets before the 2010 season knows this: he is not that guy anymore.

It's terrible what happened to Bay in New York, a pair of concussions and myriad other injuries robbing him of much of his timing, talent, and confidence. But it cannot be exaggerated that for whatever justifiable reasons there were for his downfall, he will be remembered as one of the worst free-agent signings in baseball history.

In three seasons and 1,125 plate appearances as a Met, he went .234/.318/.369 with a .687 OPS and 26 homers -- or 10 fewer than he had in his final season in Boston. He bottomed out last season with a .165 batting average and a .536 OPS. That OPS was nearly 100 points lower than Jim Rice's in 1989, the permanent barometer in Boston for what a worn-out left fielder looks like.

Again: It's terrible what happened to Bay in New York, but it happened, and it was so bad that the Mets, who aren't so much a baseball franchise as a financial cautionary tale, granted him unrestricted free agency last week by agreeing to pay the remaining $21 million on his contract.

He's trying to reclaim his baseball life. So are the Red Sox in a sense. But a reconciliation at Fenway Park isn't the way for either of them to do it.

Ben Cherington and the Red Sox must be more creative in rebuilding this thing than essentially hopping in the DeLorean and bringing back Bay and Youk as medium-reward lottery tickets. Signing a lesser-known former Red Sox player, Ross, who played eight games here in '08, is a start.

He's a tremendous defensive catcher with a little bit of pop who thrives at all of the complex and subtle aspects the position that seem to elude Jarrod Saltalamacchia. He gives them flexibility on the field and in terms of depth to make a trade. It's the kind of understated but intelligent deal the Red Sox need to continue to move forward and get out this malaise. Bringing back faded stars will only prolong it.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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