The long offseason saga of Jason Bay’s free agency is drawing to a close, for the Red Sox at least. With the signing earlier this week of free agent outfielder Mike Cameron to a two year, $15.5 million contract, the Red Sox filled their vacant starting slot in left field, effectively signaling that they were prepared to move forward without Bay.
In Cameron, the Red Sox acquired a defensive standout whose presence will solidify an already stellar outfield. The 37 year-old Cameron, a three time Gold Glove winner, still has exceptional speed to reach sharp line drives, despite his age
Cameron is such a strong fielder that the biggest question surrounding his signing is whether he or Jacoby Ellsbury will man center field. In his career, Cameron has only played one game in left field, while Ellsbury started his Red Sox career there, originally filling in for Manny Ramirez and then taking his place alongside centerfielder Coco Crisp. Yet Ellsbury is more developed as a fielder now, and his unparalleled speed would be better utilized in center than in left.
General manager Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona have both sounded confident with either configuration, and are for now deferring any final decision.
The big downside to losing Jason Bay is the hole that leaves in the middle of the Sox batting order. Bay led the team in RBIs last season, and securing his bat—or a comparable one—was a top priority for Boston heading into the offseason. While Cameron provides some power at the plate—he’s knocked 20 or more home runs in eight of the last 11 seasons— he also brings a paltry .250 career batting average. He’s also prone to the Big Whiff; ignominiously, he currently has the second most career strikeouts by an active player, trailing only Jim Thome.
To that end, speculation abounds that the Red Sox aren’t done dealing. Many reports indicate that they’re hard at work on a trade for the Padres’ slugging first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. His comparatively cheap contract would be an absolute steal given his Gold Glove defense and terrific offensive production. Then there’s talk of acquiring the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera, another offensive force, to man first base.
In either scenario, Boston would almost certainly have to part with Ellsbury, starter Clay Buchholz or both as the centerpiece of a major trade. Though losing either player would be tough to swallow given their immense potential, their roles could be covered by the offseason signings of Cameron, starter John Lackey, and outfielder Jeremy Hermida.
The only clear thing moving forward is that the Red Sox have all but formally announced Bay’s departure. Their sights are set elsewhere, and so too, it would seem, are Bay’s.