Saturday, December 27, 2008

Red Sox offseason - 2008-2009

The Red Sox were outplayed by the Rays in the ALCS and now they’ve been completely outclassed by the Yankees in the offseason. The first one was a mild surprise, but the second one shouldn’t have been. If you think it is, you’re not paying attention. Since the advent of the free agent era, the Yankees have signed nearly every free agent they’ve set their minds to acquiring. From Catfish Hunter and Reggie Jackson, and Bernie Williams through Jose Contreras, Carl Pavano, Mike Mussina, Alex Rodriguez and Johnny Damon, the Evil Empire cannot and will not be outspent. This winter, they committed $423 million to three players: CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett and Mark Teixiera. That’s closing in on half a BILLION dollars. On three players. Three. Burnett is as fragile as spun glass. Sabathia is a Wendy’s triple combo meal from outweighing an NFL offensive lineman, though I must admit Orlando Pace doesn’t have a very good changeup. Mark Teixiera is, well, very, very good.

If you look at the Yankees’ history, some of the signings were brilliant (Reggie, Bernie and Mussina) while others were downright boneheaded (Pavano, Kei Igawa, Jaret Wright) However, the wisdom of the signings or the dollars doled out aren’t the point. The lesson the Red Sox should learn is much simpler: stop competing with New York for the mega-dollar free agents. Stick to the mantra of building the team the way it’s been done successfully in the Theo Epstein era: research smart trades, continue the shrewd drafting, consider signing more affordable, mid-level free agents (familiar with this guy?) and keep concentrating on solid player development. Every now and then, they’re going to nab a big, key free agent (Foulke, Schilling, Dice-K), but if the Yankees are in the mix and really want the guy, the Red Sox (and everyone else, for that matter) are going to lose every single time. Bidding wars are pointless and futile, so stop getting into the no-win battles.
Also, some of the big free agent signings aren’t going to pan out the way you’d like. JD Drew is a decent, serviceable outfielder, but he's AJ Burnett's brother in durability. Do you really think $70 million for five years was wise? Also, can you say Edgar Renteria? How about Julio Lugo? Let’s not do that again, ok?

The core of the new millennium Red Sox is home grown: Youk, MVP Kid Dustin Pedroia, No-hitter survivor Jon Lester, Bostonian Manny Delcarmen and Championship Jigmaster Papelbon. The next two waves are either already here or very soon on their way: Buchholz, Ellsbury, Masterson and Lowrie are here already. Michael Bowden, Daniel Bard, Josh Reddick, Junichi Tazawa and Lars Anderson are part of the coming attractions. This isn’t a new concept: the Minnesota Twins and Florida Marlins, who didn’t have the financial wherewithal to compete with any rich teams, built World Series champions this way. The Tampa Bay Rays used this exact philosophy to build the 2008 American League championship team. I’m pissed off that the Sox couldn’t sign Teixiera, but not surprised. We’re rich, but not Yankee rich. What we are, though, is stocked with young talent. Don’t panic. Seeing Mark Teixiera wearing #25 in pinstripes will suck, but it’s not the end of the world. The Red Sox remain very good, and are only a few pieces away from domination again.

Here’s what has to happen between now and opening day:

• Settle the catching question. Either give Jason Varitek a sane offer or pull off a trade for a young catcher such as Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Taylor Teagarden or Miguel Montero. It might cost us Clay Buchholz, but would you rather do that, or go back to the Rich Gedman/Mike Stanley/Bob Montgomery days?
• Grab one more starter. Post-Christmas deals are available out there for folks like John Smoltz, Andy Pettitte and Brad Penny. It’ll cost barely more than the Sox paid for Bartolo Colon, and could yield far better dividends.
• A solid bat: If we had signed Teixiera, this wouldn’t be a problem, but nobody knows how healthy David Ortiz and Mike Lowell will be, and Lars Anderson isn’t ready yet. This might require a trade. Or not. See below.
• Another outfielder: everyone’s talking about Rocco Baldelli. Yeah, maybe. Fourth outfielders are a dime a dozen. Dozens of choices remain out there on the bargain basement shelf. Personally, I think Bobby Abreu might look good with “Red Sox” across his chest, and I can’t imagine he’ll be in Teixiera’s contract neighborhood.
• Extend Kevin Youkilis, Jon Lester and Jonathan Papelbon to long-term deals. Look, we locked up new MVP Dustin Pedroia for a multi-year deal before he could hit the open market and become Yankee/Met/Angels-eligible. The same needs to be done for Youkilis, Lester and Papelbon, for less than the total money that would have been spent on Teixiera. We can’t lose those guys. They’re far too important. That’s one of the secrets of the Tampa Bay Rays: They signed Evan Longoria to a grown-up contract right away: what seemed silly at the time is now brilliant. No matter what you pay when they’re young is a screaming deal compared to what will happen when “Scott Boras” is attached to their name in news stories.

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