It took little time for Jason Bay to realize that he wasn’t in Kansas (or, more accurately, Pittsburgh) anymore. Less than a week after the July 31 cyclone that brought him from the Pirates to the Red Sox, the left-fielder was caught off guard to hear that his new club had not concluded its maneuvering.
Boston had claimed Brian Giles, a two-time All-Star for whom Bay was once traded, off of waivers from San Diego. Though Giles exercised his right to veto the trade, the fact that the Sox were looking to add to what seemed like a full deck proved confusing for Bay.
‘I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ I’m not used to stuff like that. Someone was like, ‘Y’know, we like to try to win,” Bay recalled yesterday. ‘That’s great. You’ve got everybody pulling in the same direction, not only the players but the guys above you. They’re doing everything they can to help you guys out.
‘It’s definitely refreshing. If someone sees a need somewhere, you do the best you can to address it. That speaks volumes for the organization.’
The drumbeat has only become more audible since. During the four weeks that Bay has been in Boston, the Sox nearly acquired Giles and traded for Paul Byrd (assuming the balance of his contract from the Indians). Prior to yesterday’s 11-3 wipeout of the Yankees, the Sox acquired outfielder Mark Kotsay from the Braves in exchange for minor-league outfielder Luis Sumoza.
Sox G.M. Theo Epstein downplayed the significance of the deals, saying that they were dictated by necessity. Byrd was acquired when Tim Wakefield landed on the disabled list on August 12. Kotsay, a player who the Sox did not feel compelled to pursue earlier this month, suddenly became a key trade target when starting rightfielder J.D. Drew went to the D.L. with a back strain on Tuesday.
All the same, the two deals have provided the Sox with depth to withstand an August that has featured significant attrition. Rather than being left to lament new-sprung leaks, the Sox can admire the repair work.
‘You try to keep pace, to cover your holes as much as you can,’ said reliever Mike Timlin. ‘Usually, in this game, like anything else, if you’re standing still you’re going to get run over. We’re moving.’
Kotsay will provide the Sox with an excellent defensive outfielder who can also serve as a quality lineup weapon against right-handed pitchers. The 32-year-old was hitting .289 with a .340 OBP and .418 slugging mark for the Braves, and .305/.361/.457 against right-handers this year.
He will start in right today against Yankees right-hander Mike Mussina. The prospect of getting dropped onto the roster of a World Series contender was exciting to Kotsay, for reasons that went beyond the reported $325,000 that he received for waiving his right to veto a trade to the Red Sox.
‘This obviously is exciting to come to a club that’s in the playoff race, and especially one like Boston that has the history of a great tradition,’ said Kotsay. ‘I’m just anxious to come over and in some way help this club, obviously reach its destination, and at the same time have as much fun as possible.’
Kotsay’s new teammates were certainly delighted for his arrival. Those who know Kotsay from elsewhere’including Bay, who played with him in San Diego, and Mike Lowell, who was a member of the Marlins with Kotsay’described him as an ideal acquisition in Drew’s absence.
That was particularly the case since the pool of players who can be traded after July 31 dwindles thanks to the requirement that they pass through waivers.
‘He’s a guy who can play all three positions, he’s a great defensive outfielder. He can do everything,’ said Bay. ‘Given the time of the year and probably the restrictions on certain guys, he’s probably one of if not the best name available. I think he’s going to fit in great here. He kind of seems like a pretty obvious fit.’
Yet just because a player is a fit does not mean that a team will acquire him. Several members of the Sox who come from small- and mid-market clubs are familiar with the disappointment that follows a failure to address a hole when it spring up.
That concern has not re-emerged in Boston, particularly this year.
‘There are a lot of organizations, I’d say, that send the exact opposite message where teams might think they’re in it and then they unload guys,’ said third baseman Mike Lowell. ‘We feel like we’re all on the same page, which is great.’
The fact that the Sox continue to invest more resources in the 2008 team highlights the conviction that the club has legitimate visions of repeating as champions. Despite the fact that several regulars’including Drew (back), Lowell (oblique) and Sean Casey (neck)’are sidelined, the team is currently playing as well as it has this year.
The Sox are 16-7 since Bay’s arrival, the third best record in the American League in August. Their 6-2 mark on their current nine-game roadtrip marks the team’s best performance outside of Fenway Park this year.
Though 3.5 games behind Tampa Bay in the division, the Sox are well-positioned for their final 30 games, in possession of a 2.5 game lead over the Twins in the wild card.
‘We haven’t been a good road team all year. We’re really banged up, and we’re having a pretty darn good roadtrip so far,’ said Epstein. ‘We’re nowhere yet, but we can’t help but be proud of the way we’ve gone about it from day one of spring training with a lot of little hurdles and moments of adversity that have (crept) up. We just keep grinding through it.’
And so, the team has sought reinforcements at a time of year when rosters are often static. For newcomers to the Sox, such aggressive tactics have brought them into a brave new world.