Andrew Bailey will return for another year with the Red Sox. For some, aggravated by what little the Red Sox have received from the one-time closer in the two years since they traded for him, this in itself is bad news. Separating bad blood from the equation, however, Bailey is talented enough to be a positive for Boston's bullpen when he's healthy. Simply put, his presence on the 2014 Red Sox could be a big positive, and can only be as large a negative as John Farrell allows. It's not win - win, but the lose side of things isn't that big.
For all that, though, the way he's found his way back bodes ill for Boston's offseason.
The Red Sox have chosen to tender Bailey, meaning he'll make his way through arbitration (if necessary) and ultimately receive about $4 million. Had the Red Sox chosen to risk Bailey going elsewhere, they could have non-tendered him and offered him an incentive-laden deal, or perhaps even had him back on a minor league deal, so far has his stock fallen in his time with the Sox.
At $4 million, Bailey seems overpriced. Significantly, really. Even in this mad new market, relievers who haven't stayed healthy or performed well in two years and aren't scheduled to even pitch until the season is halfway over are hardly hot commodities. It's hard to believe this has escaped the notice of the front office. In all likelihood, this is not a deal Ben Cherington and co. are terribly happy to make. $4 million is not a huge amount of money for a team like the Red Sox, but it's not an insignificant portion of their budget this offseason. Even on a one-year deal, Bailey has a non-negligible impact on their ability to sign other free agents.
Why tender him the contract, then? It only makes sense if he Red Sox simply don't put much emphasis on dollars. And no, that doesn't mean they're about to go the way of the Dodgers. Certainly their attitude towards the McCann negotiations are proof enough of that. If they're not mindful of salary because there is no limit, then, most likely it's because they doubt they're going to be able to find a way to approach their limit this year.
Looking at the market, that's not terribly surprising, either. In the 2012-2013 offseason, there was a healthy distribution of free agents beneath the very expensive top choices. Anibal Sanchez, Hiroki Kuroda, Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn--talent was there for those unwilling to spend on the top guys in Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton.
This year, the market is more lopsided towards the top end. Robinson Cano, Shin-Soo Choo, and Jacoby Ellsbuy are all likely to receive monster contracts, while the options one tier down are a lot less desirable. Brian McCann, really, was the only guy who fit that bill and fit it well. Looking at what's left, we've got a seriously flawed crop of players. Carlos Beltran seeking three years at 37 years old, Nelson Cruz walking around with Biogenesis stamped in big red letters on his forehead, Napoli with his BABIP and strikeouts to say nothing of the hip, and Saltalamacchia replacing a questionable hip with questionable defense.
The Red Sox don't want to get into that top level of the free agent class, and who can blame them? The best free agents seem to all-too-often end up looking like the worst contracts in a few years' time. But in a year like this, that leaves them with few options for improvement, and even just bringing back the 2013 team involves signing players unlikely to repeat their performances and very likely to put restictions on payroll in more promising markets.
Signing a player like Andrew Bailey for somewhere in the vicinity of $4 million is very much a luxury move. It's the sort of small thing you see a front office do when the rest of their payroll is in order with the knowledge that, if they don't spend that money now, the owners aren't just going to let them roll it over into next year's. The Red Spx certainly don't fit that bill right now with so many holes on their roster, but if the front office has determined that the free agent market simply doesn't have players they're willing to sign for mid-level money--think Victorino's contract--then that would leave them free to make a move like this with Bailey.
If that's the case, it's probably not what the team was hoping for. Last year they stayed out of that second-tier territory because the 2013 team didn't really seem like one to spend big on if it meant weighing down, say, the 2017 team. Obviously they ended up proving very much worthwhile, but after the Punto deal, the plan had to be progressively increasing investment as prospects like Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts made their way up to the majors. Unfortunately, the options haven't really presented themselves this year.
Of course, that doesn't mean the Sox will be punting the season by any means. Even if they don't see many options for themselves in free agency, there's still a strong core of players left from 2013, prospects making their way up, and a trade market that could see pitching as a very valuable commodity given that Phil Hughes just signed for three years and $24 million. Seriously, that's a thing. It happened.
But at least when it comes to free agency, the options seem thin, and by essentially dumping $4 million on Andrew Baiely, the Sox seem to be saying they're not going to need that money for such a disappointing market. That's probably for the best in the long-term, and not something the team could really do much about to begin with, but it still makes Ben Cherignton's job to produce another top-level team that much harder.