When you get down to it, the question is bigger than Jason Bay. If you think about it, it is more important than the prospects the Rays were unwilling to trade for him.
Before you decide how you feel about the Rays' no-deal Thursday, you must first answer this:
Who do you trust?
It is as simple as that, really. You can argue that the trading deadline was the latest swing-and-a-miss by the Rays, or you can argue that it was merely a first-place team protecting its assets. Eventually, however, what you are debating is the decision-making ability of the Rays' front office.
Given the way things have changed around Tropicana Field, given 19 games over .500, perhaps the front office has earned the benefit of the doubt.
I know, I know. It was a disappointing thing to see Bay go to the Back Bay instead of Tampa Bay. In a way, it was a little like watching the Rays' hitters fail to deliver at crunch time. Again.
Look, if you want to criticize Andrew Friedman, the Rays' executive vice president in charge of finding a right-handed hitter, then have at it. There is nothing wrong with passion and nothing new about criticism. Who can blame anyone for wanting help for a batting order that looks helpless.
On the other hand, if the Rays' fans are disappointed, it's because their team didn't get a boost in their playoff race. And if you're being fair, Friedman and his staff had something to do with the Rays being in the playoff race, too.
In the end, this is as much about Friedman as it is about Bay. Frankly, you have to believe the reason this trade wasn't completed was that he didn't like the cost.
Let us agree on this: In any trade, there is such a thing as offering too little, and there is such a thing as giving up too much. When it comes to assessing the value of the Rays' minor-leaguers — let's face it, most of us have seen only glimpses of them — shouldn't a scouting department have a better handle on it than the rest of us?
So what would have been the proper price for Bay? Friedman wouldn't say in his news conference Thursday evening.
As for me, I would have given up Reid Brignac and Jeff Niemann (mentioned in online speculation as the player the Rays were giving up). No, I wouldn't have given up either David Price or Wade Davis.
After all, a midmarket team needs its prospects more than a big-market one, which can toss $17-million at a free agent. The next great Boston player might be in Seattle, and the next great New York player might be in Oakland. The next great Rays player is probably in their farm system. As such, the Rays need to be cautious as they ponder trading him away.
Still, the trading deadline is about the present, and agreed, the Rays' task has become tougher. The Yankees have gotten better in the last few days, and if nothing else, the Red Sox have gotten calmer.
So what has to happen from here to make everyone forget about Jason Bay? It would help, of course, if Bay had the good manners not to be the difference in this division race. It would help if Brignac could become a star at his earliest opportunity. And if the Rays could manage to win the darn division anyway, it couldn't hurt.
Otherwise, this will be remembered as the day that Bay got away.
Perhaps the division, too.