Friday, December 26, 2008

I'm Back...

I'm home for winter break, and I promised myself I'd write more as a result. To update you about my life, I just had perhaps the most fun three months of my college years, working for an amazing school newspaper, getting to cover the two best teams at UNH, meeting tons of new people and making lifelong friendships as a result. I have concluded taking classes and after this brief respite, I'll be doing my UNH journalism internship at the Daily News of Newburyport on the North Shore. My work will be varied and interesting, and hopefully I'll get to cover some high school baseball after the snow melts. Then in May I will get that diploma, and in these uncertain times, we all have to hope for the best when it comes to getting jobs. But that's in the future. Right now, I'm just trying to relax for these few weeks before beginning my life in the work force.

I did get a chance to write about baseball during my tenure at TNH, including this Red Sox post-mordem that would have fit perfectly here at JBB. Take a look if you want to recall the pain of the end of the 2008 season. I know, I'm so good at marketing myself.

Let's head right into the big news of this week, that being the revelation the New York Yankees have pockets deeper than the Mariana Trench. They swooped in at the very last second to sign the crowned jewel of the free agent season, Mark Teixeira, to an eight-year deal worth a reported $180 million. This comes a few short weeks after the Bombers came to agreements with stud free agent arms CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett for $161 million and $82.5 million, respectively. So while the Yankees have committed $423.5 million to their future this offseason, no other team has made what you'd call just a "splash" in the most timid baseball winter in recent history.

The Red Sox, in particular Theo Epstein, were enamored with Teixeira, and badly wanted to sign the slugging first baseman not just for next year but to be their mid-lineup stalwart for several years to come. But they only wanted to sign him for their price, and their reported final offer for Tex was $12 million short of what the Yankees will give him.

When Epstein, Larry Lucchino and John Henry flew to Texas to meet with Teixeira and his agent Scott Boras, I was fairly confident the latter two would be joining the former three on their way back to Boston. Of course, this wasn't the case. Boras played his typical game, telling the Sox he had much bigger offers on the table for Teixeira, and Henry chose to call his bluff by publicly proclaiming the Red Sox would "not be a factor" in the bidding for Teixeira's services.

I felt like the major media outlets got it all wrong when they claimed the next day that the Red Sox were out of running entirely for Teixeira. The wording of Henry's statement did not close the door at all. But maybe in the end they were right. I wonder if Teixeira was put off by the often off-putting duo of Lucchino and Henry, and instructed his agent to do whatever it took to get him into pinstripes.

Until Tuesday, it didn't seem like the Yankees were really seriously considering signing Teixeira. They'd already brought on two huge contracts this winter, traded for Nick Swisher, and their glut of corner outfield/first base/DH types seemed to keep them out of the running. Well, looking back, it's clear they wanted Teixiera all along, and were willing to wait for all the other offers to come in just so they could trump them by about $10 million or so. The Nationals may have had the biggest offer on the table, but there was no reason to believe Teixeira, who wanted to play for a winner, that he'd actually sign with either his hometown Orioles or Washington.

There's still a lot we don't know. Murray Chass (who somehow has a blog even though he remembers the McKinley Administration) believes Teixeira and his wife didn't want to live in Boston, and chose New York instead. This might be true, and if so it makes me feel better about the situation. But I can't help but feel for a measly (to the Sox) $2-$3 million more per year, they might have been able to convince the Teixeiras to set aside their reservations about Boston. Then again, maybe it was Teixeira's desire all along to play for New York, and the Yankees' interest was stoked as soon as that fact became apparent to them. Maybe the Red Sox never really wanted Tex as much as what had been reported all winter. It's hard to say right now.

The Red Sox are not screwed for the 2009 season because of this. They will cross their fingers and hope Mike Lowell, David Ortiz, and J.D. Drew have fully healthy seasons, Jason Bay and Kevin Youkilis replicate their 2008 successes, and Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia become the game's best 1-2 punch. Signing Teixeira would have taken a considerable amount of pressure off all those players, and Lowell would have been playing at a different address. I've heard Lowell felt betrayed by all the Teixeira talk, which is unfortunate considering Lowell is probably the best guy in baseball and doesn't deserve to be jerked around like this. Hopefully this will motivate him to come back stronger than ever from hip surgery. Also, Youkilis will likely be the everyday cleanup hitter for the Sox, a role he seemed to thrive in down the stretch and in the playoffs. If they want a bona fide mid-lineup star, they will have to wait until next offseason to go after Matt Holliday, or maybe Albert Pujols in two years.

Don't get any ideas in your head that the Sox might go after Pat Burrell, Adam Dunn, Jason Giambi, or Bobby Abreu. They were either going to sign Teixeira or have a relatively quiet offseason as far as signing free agents. This article by Sean McAdam points out how futile the Red Sox view the free agent market. The current Red Sox administration will never spend half a billion dollars on free agents in one offseason, and it's hard not to respect them for that. Epstein refuses to get into bidding wars with his rivals, and he won't let the Yankees dictate his own moves the way Dan Duquette and Lou Gorman did.

The Sox need to focus now on their catching situation after the Yankees pilfered Kevin Cash the same day they yanked Tex off the market. Boras is having a tough time shopping Jason Varitek to other teams, mostly because the Red Sox offered Tek arbitration and no team wants to give up their first round pick for a soon-to-be 37-year-old oft-injured catcher who sported a .672 OPS last year. Conventional wisdom would say Varitek comes back to the Red Sox on a two-year deal that will pay him around his $10 million salary from last year. Because neither party has much of an option elsewhere, this should be the way it goes down. Needless to say, Boras is a slippery fuck. So anything can happen.

That's all I've got for today. I'll be back soon with thoughts on the still-vast free agent pitching market, and how frugal teams like Boston, Tampa, Milwaukee, Cleveland and Arizona could come up with some big bargains by waiting. I hope everyone had a good Christmas.

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