Monday, December 8, 2008

Don't do it, Theo

Temptation can come in many forms. To the married man, it’s the stunning blonde sitting alone in the corner of the bar. To a car thief, it’s the late model BMW idling unattended in front of a convenience store. To the female shopaholic, it’s that Gucci handbag on sale at half price. To Theo Epstein, GM of the Boston Red Sox, it’s the slugging first baseman available this Christmas for a cool $150 million.

Mark Teixeira is clearly the marquee position player up for grabs in this winter’s free agent bazaar. In fact, he’s the best hitter available since the winter of 2000-01, when Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez were offering their services to the highest bidder. A switch-hitter with both power and patience, Teixeira’s line of .290/.378/.541 since he broke into the major leagues in 2003 is the best by a first baseman not named Albert Pujols. Oh, he’s also young (only 28 on Opening Day), an excellent fielder (two Gold Gloves) and durable (he’s averaged over 150 games per season).

So, with Teixeira’s sparkling resume and the mounds of cash Boston seemingly has to spend this winter, is there any reason why Epstein should not make the two-time Silver Slugger his primary offseason objective?

Yes, there’s actually one huge reason -- Teixeira can’t pitch.

Despite Boston’s burgeoning dynasty, which includes two world championships and five postseason appearances since 2003, the organization’s post-2010 pitching outlook outside of emerging ace Jon Lester isn’t as bright as one might think. Workhorse Josh Beckett, a free agent after 2010, could follow the likes of Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and others by shunning megabuck overtures and return to his native Texas; Daisuke Matsuzaka, his 18-3 record last season notwithstanding, consistently racks up high pitch counts due to poor command and failed to make it into the sixth inning in almost half his starts; Tim Wakefield is 42; Clay Buchholz has regressed significantly and is now being dangled as trade bait; and recent free agent signee Junichi Tazawa has never thrown a pitch in North America. Put simply, the acquisition of a proven, frontline starter would bolster the Red Sox’ rotation at a crucial time and all but ensure the team’s ability to contend well into the next decade.

Fortunately, ‘tis the season for Epstein & Co. In C.C. Sabathia, Derek Lowe and A.J. Burnett, Boston has three studs to choose from this winter. Sabathia is obviously the main attraction. As his work down the stretch with the Brewers exhibited, he’s a money pitcher, a guy who’s capable of putting a team on his back and changing the entire dynamic of a pennant race all by himself. Though it’s no secret that the big lefty desires to pitch close to his California home, the Red Sox could throw a wrench into his plans if they extend an offer which approaches the 6-year/$140 million proposal already put out by the Yankees. If nothing else, a decision by Boston to enter the Sabathia sweepstakes would drive up the price for the Bronx Bombers and possibly prevent them from making other major acquisitions this winter.

Lowe is intriguing for several reasons. First, he’s already had success pitching in the Beantown pressure cooker, as evidenced by his excellent 52-27 record as a starter from 2002-04 and the stingy 3.09 ERA he posted in 61 postseason innings with the Red Sox. Second, he’s durable. Since becoming a full-time starter in 2002, Lowe has never missed a turn and averaged nearly 211 innings a season.

Burnett has always been something of an enigma – he has first-rate stuff but only appears to stay healthy in the walk year of his contract. Still, given his electric arm and the success he’s enjoyed against the arch-rival Yankees (2.43 ERA in almost 80 career innings), he’d provide manager Terry Francona with the perfect right-handed foil to Lester.

The Red Sox likely don’t have enough money to sign both Teixeira and a pitcher from the Sabathia/Lowe/Burnett triumvirate; however, they’d have far less difficulty making do without Teixeira’s lumber. In Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz, Jason Bay and J.D. Drew, Boston has the strongest lineup in the A.L. East. And let’s not forget that Ortiz will have an entire winter to rest and rehabilitate the ailing wrist which caused him to suffer through a disappointing 2008. Nor should we neglect to mention third baseman Mike Lowell, who, after undergoing hip surgery this offseason, could very well return to his 120 RBI form from 2007.

There’s yet another player we feel compelled to bring up. That’s Boston’s first baseman of the future, Lars Anderson. Anderson, 21, breezed through High A and Double A in 2008 at a .317/.417/.517 clip and displayed a good eye as well as the ability to hit with power to all fields. While no prospect is ever a sure thing (see Burroughs, Sean), Anderson is as close as it gets. The left-handed slugger should be ready for prime time no later than 2010 and would offer the club at least replacement level production at the big league minimum of $400,000. This is in contrast to Teixeira, who would offer mouth watering numbers but at an eye popping cost. So with the Red Sox offense already a juggernaut and more help on the way, Teixeira would represent an unnecessary luxury whose exorbitant cost could prohibit the organization from addressing other areas of need. And in the bare knuckles world of the A.L. East such a serious miscalculation could have dire consequences, including the end of a golden era in Boston.
Don’t do it, Theo.


jacktanner said...

I think Red Sox will try to sign Tex if they can get him for what they think is the right price. They got shut down in the playoffs and they don't want that to happen again. I think they have doubts about Ortiz health and if Anderson is ready he'll replace Ortiz. I don't think Lowe is coming back. They didn't pursue him in '04 for personal (glug, glug) reasons. I don't think they've changed their opinion. PS. nobody in Boston calls it Beantown.

Evan said...

Just saw that your Tigers traded for Gerald Laird? Thoughts on that deal?

Slice said...

while I agree, that Theo should focus on pitching (and an outfielder - Ellsbury is unproven and Drew, while healthy until last year is older a may need a rest).

What I don;t understand is the comment about Lester - why is future not as bright as we think and wha do you think we should expect from him>?

Infield Chatter said...

Tanner -- Thanks for your interest. I have to agree with you and think if the Red Sox are fully committed, they will be the ones who end up with Tex. That said, I think he's a better fit for the Angels. In terms of Lowe, I realize this is second-hand, but several in the Boston front office feel that he has matured some and will not fall prey to the various off-the-field distractions that had plagued him in the past. If this is true, I could see him coming back. Though it will not be cheap as there could be as many as half a dozen teams bidding for his services.

Evan -- I'll provide a recap of the Tigers - Rangers deal ASAP.

Slice -- You might have misunderstood me. I said that "outside of Lester" the future of the Red Sox' rotation is not as bright as people may think. I see Lester evolving into a 220-240 IP horse with 15-18 wins p.a. and perhaps a Cy Young Award on his trophy case before he's through.

Troy Patterson said...

I don't see how Bowden isn't on this discussion. I disagree that the team is Ok to sign Tex and move Lowell. Lars will not be ready until 2010 and Tex costs us no players in trade.

Lowe is going to require 4 years and that takes him to 42 yeas old.

Burnett is injury prone and is 87-76 in 215 games...I hate using record, but he is not worth a 5 years deal.

If you say sign Sheets to a 2 year deal I agree, but none of these other choices.

I did a review of these three choice Buchholz, Masterson, Bowden. I think Bowden will be the best of the bunch long term, but Buchholz has a great history. His "regression" in 2008 was due to an arm slot change made by the Sox. We will see in 2009 if he has adjusted or not.

Phlavio said...

I'm a Met fan, but I see the reason for Boston to get Teixeira even with Anderson in the wings. Let us say that next year Anderson is 100% ready to play 1B and you have Youk at 3rd and Tex at 1st. Looking over to Queens you might see Fernando Martinez and say... hmmm... well, we could use a replacement to J.D. Drew in RF. Not that he'd necessarily be your #1 want. Teixeira give the sox a legit guy to hit 3rd or 4th while Lars doesn't NECESSARILY give you anything. In the end I think that the Angels will nab Tex, but just because a player is blocked doesn't make him useless. Plenty of teams will need a 1B in 2010 and the FA market will be weak.

Eric said...

Since when is Derek Lowe a Stud? Esp at 35?

rokketmn said...

How can you say that the Sox pitching beyond 2010 is weak and advocate Sabathia, Burnett. and Lowe?

Sabathia is 300 pounds and has thrown nearly 500 innings the last 2 seasons. I think he has 3 good years left. He also has not pitched well in the playoffs. Is that conditioning?

Burnett is injury prone and has had 3 years when he pitched 200 innings, and the last 2 were when he was heading for free agency. He also knew he was going to opt out of his contract before the season because he knew more money would be out there on a longer deal.

Lowe is 36 NOW. He is not the future.

The Sox have Lester, Buchholz, Bowden, Hagadone, Stolmy Pimentel, and Tazawa. We could also re-sign Beckett. OUr pitching is in much better shape than our hitting, because Lars Anderson is the only impact hitter on the horizon and he is likely 2 years away. If Tex is signed, he will replace Ortiz at DH in 2011.

I believe that if you can add an impact player (Teixeira),who is still in his prime, without the cost of prospects, then you do it every time. The Sox also have the financial flexibility to do this and still re-sign our young core of players (Youk, Lester, Pap, and Beckett)

Eric said...

lowe is only 35.. wont be 36 until april.

i would classify him as a "stud" but he's pretty good and has shown tremendous durability. it also seems like hes grown up quite a bit since leaving boston in '04. putting the red sox superior defense behind him would help him continue his success.

Robert said...

Good article. This opposing viewpoint was definitely needed.

I, too, am looking forward to having Lars Anderson up with the big club. While you never really know, this kid has been solid. I would hate to see him held up unnecessarily by Tex.

I have to say that these negotiations seem , to me, more about Papi then Tex really. Papi hasn't proven that he can really be Papi without an All-Star slugger behind him.

But this whole thing could go either way. If the Sox don't get Tex, what happens if Lowell doesn't come back 100%? Maybe Papi continues a downward slide in his age-33 season? Sox may need to transition to a new power source....

I have to disagree with your assessment of the Sox pitching. With Lester (next year will be his age-25 season), Dice-K (28), Buchholz (24), Masterson (24), and Bowden (22), the Sox have a pretty solid future.... and that's before you think about supplementing that group with FA's or a trade. I think your post might have been looking at the glass half empty a bit much.

Albanese said...

This article is funny. Boston has no shortage of pitching. He doesn't mention Masterson or Bowden. Dice K is a young man. And Beckett could re sign, that's premature thinking he won't. The idea of FA is what will help you now, and that's a hitter for Boston. As he states, their pitching is set for the next 2 seasons, at least. Theo will worry about that when it's time. Now is not the time. Tex or bust.

Wayne said...

I wish the blogosphere would stop with all this Lars Anderson bullcrap. He might not ever make it to the majors. Tex is a sure thing. Anderson would either be trade bait or play 1B and DH with Tex in the future.

Infield Chatter said...

To all --

Thank you for your comments and interest. Just to clarify a couple of points:

1) I LOVE Mark Teixeira and think if the Red Sox sign him they instantly become a better team. The problem is, they already have a strong offensive team, and, going forward, I think they will need to bolster their starting pitching more than their lineup.

2) I realize that Boston has some intriguing young arms (Masterson, Bowden, etc.); however, young arms are even more of a crapshoot than young bats. I think Masterson can emerge as a shutdown reliever, but am unsure whether he'll ever be more than a slightly abive average starter due to his lack of an outpitch against lefties. Bowden profiles more as a #3 than he does an ace.

3) I know I called Sabathia, Lowe and Burnett "studs," but I was referring more to how they are perceived by the "market" than how I perceive them. Obviously, I'd call Sabathia a stud any day of the week. However, to me Lowe is a very reliable pitcher, a horse, if you will. Burnett, in my mind, has stud potential and stuff, but he's too much of an enigma due to his injury history. That said, if he makes 25 starts a year, he still adds value because of his immense taent.

4) Some of you sighted Lowe's age. Granted, he'll be turning 36 next year. While I would definitely classify that as "old" in baseball terms, you have to look at his record of perfect health (no missed starts in seven years) and that fact that sinkerballers age much more gracefully than power pitchers. As a result, I can envision Lowe still be highly productive at the end of a four-year contract.

Have a nice weekend, everyone.