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A look at the Red Sox’ offseason interest in Jose Bautista

01.26.11 at 1:58 am ET
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“Due diligence.”

That is how one source familiar with the talks between the Red Sox and Blue Jays characterized the conversations that the two teams had about Jose Bautista, the slugger who emerged improbably to launch a major-league leading 54 homers.

On Tuesday, Fox Sports reported that the Sox made multiple trade offers to the Blue Jays about the slugger during the Winter Meetings in December, but “never got the sense that the Jays were serious about a deal,” with Toronto feeling that it would be served best to retain the slugger. On the Sox’ side, it seems that they were largely interested in gauging the full realm of market possibilities to identify alternatives should they fail to land free agent Carl Crawford, rather than having built a strategy around Bautista.

Over the course of the winter meetings — whose activity began with the Sox’ successful conclusion of a deal for Adrian Gonzalez and the stunning announcement of Jayson Werth‘s seven-year, $126 million deal with the Nationals, and ended with the Sox’ similarly startling conclusion of a seven-year, $142 million deal with Crawford — the Sox conducted an exploration of a broad range of market options.

That examination included free-agent options such as Magglio Ordonez as well as trade candidates such as Josh Willingham, Carlos Beltran and, yes, Bautista, among others. The Sox’ interest in Bautista preceded his breakout season, dating to his time in Pittsburgh, when at least one Red Sox talent evaluator thought that he represented a buy-low candidate with at least a chance of reaching 30 homers if the stars aligned, while another considered him at least a solid role player who could play solid defense at several positions while doing damage against left-handed pitchers.

But once the Jays acquired Bautista, the Sox felt that the opportunities to acquire him had diminished significantly. They were one of multiple clubs to place an August waiver claim for him in  2009, but were not awarded the claim, according to a major league source. Apparently, as the Sox explored the outfield market during the Winter Meetings — and with Bautista coming off of his landmark season — that remained the case.

Moreover, team officials viewed Crawford as the prize of the class all along for multiple reasons. Not only was the team enamored of Crawford’s across-the-board talents and ability to impact the club’s run scoring and run prevention, but the Sox’ interest in an outfielder this offseason was motivated in no small part by their recognition that they would need to add an outfielder in 2012, after J.D. Drew‘s contract expires.

A long-term deal with Crawford would give the Sox such an outfielder. Bautista, on the other hand, is eligible for free agency after the 2011 season, and so the Sox might have been put back in a position where they had to return to the market next offseason by trading him.

So, Crawford was the player whom the Sox were trying to land, and whom the ultimately did land. But the team wanted to make sure that their offseason strategy motto was not “Crawford or Bust.”

“If you’€™re counting on signing Carl Crawford and not ready to take another path, you’€™re probably going to sign him but risk a deal you’€™re not comfortable with,” Assistant GM Ben Cherington said last week. “It just happened that we were able to get deals done for the two guys [Gonzalez and Crawford] at the top of our list, not just for the two guys who could make the biggest impact, but who also best addressed the long-term needs.”

Read More: carl crawford, Jose Bautista, josh willingham, magglio ordonez
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