Joy R. Absalon-US PRESSWIRE
Cody Ross is officially a free agent, and while he could still come back to Boston, it's no guarantee
Cody Ross and the Red Sox have been talking contract for quite some time now. Before the 2012 season even ended, Ross made it known publicly through his player diary at ESPN.com that negotiation had begun on an extension. It's now November 5, though, and Ross is no closer to an extension now than he was then. In his own words once more, he and the Red Sox were never close:
"It hasn't been really what I would say close," said Ross.
Ross said his agent, Mike Milchin, received calls from "multiple teams" after the midnight deadline expired Friday night expressing interest in the 31 year-old. It's a dynamic that has altered Ross' mindset heading into the rest of the offseason.
"Yeah, definitely, because now it's going to be more complex with other teams involved. It's not just [the Red Sox]," he explained when asked if his thinking had changed post-deadline. "They had a ton of opportunities. We talked about this back in July and we couldn't work anything out up until the deadline. Now it only makes sense to listen to other teams. But obviously we're going to talk [with the Red Sox."
Ross didn't receive a qualifying offer, so there's little keeping him in Boston besides his stated desire to be here. The most likely scenario here is that Ross never received an offer from the Red Sox so good that he felt comfortable ignoring what the rest of the market had to say to him. He's only been a free agent the one time, and it was coming off of a rough 2011 season: that's how he ended up in Boston for $3 million. In his career, over parts of nine seasons, Ross has made $17 million. That's quite a bit of money in a vacuum, but in regards to what he could make, or should have made, it's not necessarily right.
Given that, it's no wonder Ross would want to wait and see what other teams had to offer him. If he can squeeze three or four seasons out of a team looking for an outfielder, and do so at a rate that brings him between, say, $21 million and $30 million, then why wouldn't he? That's more money than he's made in the majors over nine years, in a fraction of the time. Since he's now receiving phone calls from other clubs, then we can be certain that Boston didn't offer Ross the kind of contract he's hoping to get.
Should they, though? When Ross was initially signed, the idea was that his production against lefties, combined with his defense and the marriage between his swing and Fenway Park, made for an outfielder Boston would get more than their money's worth from. At that time the cost was $3 million, with incentives built-in. Ross hit .267/.326/.481, and while he had his poor moments on defense -- he's a stretch in center over long time periods, and going back against the wall in left would be hilarious if it weren't so tragic -- he was productive for Boston overall.
Ross was a great bargain at $3 million. Paying him what he's worth for another year or two would have been fine as well, even if that was upwards of $8 million per season. You can even make the argument that Boston should have given him the qualifying offer, overpaying him severely for a single season, but making sure he could be around in 2013 without clogging up their future outfields. Ross is looking more for something in a Josh Willingham, though, something for three years or more, at roughly $7 million per season. Boston shouldn't be criticized too harshly if they did that -- Ross' swing makes Fenway better for him than other parks would be -- but you can just as easily, if not more so, argue against the Red Sox going that long with an outfielder from ages 32 through 34. Especially one trending the wrong way defensively, with lessened production on the road, and just average hitting against right-handers.
Boston has, at this stage, chosen to wait it out with Ross. They're likely still negotiating with him, but unlike Ortiz, who was locked up before the Rangers could even follow through on their threat to talk to him, Ross is available for all. If no one else gives Ross exactly what he's looking for, maybe two years for $14 million to $16 million will be in the works. That would still represent Ross' largest contract, and Boston wouldn't need to lock him up beyond 2014. It might take some time to get to that point, though, but at least Ross plays a position where there are plenty of other options available on the market. If anything, the existence of Cody Ross in Boston should remind us of how the market works-- he's here specifically because Boston waited everyone else out, and struck when it suited their needs and budget.