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How Cody Ross is viewing another potential round of free agency

09.20.12 at 10:08 am ET

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Three years ago it was Jason Bay standing in front of his locker following the 2009 season, relaying his excitement regarding the prospects of free agency.

A year later, Adrian Beltre was spending the final days of the ’10 campaign formulating his strategy heading into the offseason.

Now, it’s Cody Ross turn.

“I’m absolutely open to talking and trying to get something done before the end of the year and before the exclusive period (where the Red Sox have sole negotiating rights until five days after the World Series),” Ross said, “but if I hit the free agent market I have to start listening.”

As the final days of the regular season count down, leading Ross closer to his second straight year of free agency, the outfielder is starting to examine his situation closer and closer. It is close to the time his “list” is being completed, and it has some changes this time around.

The “list” is something akin to what Beltre had presented when looking at the things he wanted to prioritize when choosing a team. At the top of the list?

“It’s winning,” the third baseman quickly said in a late-September interview.

A year after placing playing time and role as the be-all, end-all, Ross has followed suit with Beltre’s way of thinking. It’s just another piece of the equation that has been altered after spending 2012 with the Boston Red Sox.

“Last year I wrote that down when my agent said, ‘Out of four or five things, what are the most important?’ It was role, No. 1. No. 2 was winning organization,” Ross remembered. “Three was AAV (annual average value) as far as the term and money. Location was another. For me No. 1 was the role. But No. 1 this season is probably going to be winning. I’m to that point where I want to win. I can’t see myself going and signing where I’m not going to win.”

If no deal is struck with the Red Sox prior to the conclusion of the ’12 season, Ross will be diving into this world of potential free agency in a far different place that last time around. Fewer doubts, more production and a reminder that an injury-plagued ’11 might have been an aberration for the 31-year-old.

In 118 games with the Red Sox, Ross is hitting .274 with an .839 OPS and 21 home runs. Of all outfielders, Ross has the 15th-best OPS, while standing at 14th in terms of homers. It has not only allowed the Red Sox an enormous bang for their buck (one-year, $3 million), but is potentially putting the outfielder in an advantageous position heading into November.

“No excuses, but I started off the year hurt, and I ended the (’11) year hurt. From the beginning I was trying to play catch up and trying to live up to the image of being a hero from the previous year. It was a tough year. I’m me now. This is me now. What I’m doing this year. This is me,” Ross said.

“If I’m going to play, and play every day, and play in a fair park, this is me. This is what you’re going to get. This isn’t a great year, but it’s me and I could potentially have a career-type of year, but I’m back to being me. That’s the one thing I want to stress, to let people know I’ve done this before.”

Some other things going for Ross? He is fifth among outfielders in OPS against left-handers (1.068), is second to only David Ortiz among all Red Sox  hitters with a .962 OPS at Fenway Park, is viewed as a solid presence in the clubhouse, and there is a thought that the trend might continue upward.

“Individually, I feel like it’s been good. But by no means do I feel like I’ve reached my potential,” he said. “At times I’ve struggled, and everybody goes through struggles, but the learning process of learning new pitchers ‘€¦ I’ve faced a lot of guys I’ve never even heard of so going into next year I’ll have a better idea of what to expect. I think I can have an even better year next year, and an even better year the year after that and continue on like that just for the simple fact that I’ve learned. I’m happy, but I know I can do and be better.”

It all is setting up for yet another interesting offseason for a yet another Red Sox potential free agent.

What would you give Cody Ross?

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