Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Thursday, November 23, 2006

ANAHEIM MAY NOT BE MANNY'S DESTINATION AFTER ALL

The money being spent in this free agency period has become absurd. Case in point; Alfonso Soriano gets an eight-year, $136 million deal from the Cubs, and now Gary Matthews Jr. gets a five-year, $50 million deal from the Angels after having just one good year.

Prior to last season, the 32-year-old Matthews was a lifetime .249 hitter who was viewed as nothing more than a journeyman - someone who couldn't keep his job with any team for more than a year. In fact, Matthews signed a minor league deal with the Rangers just two years ago, after having been released by the Braves that spring. Before that, Matthews had played for five teams (Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, New York Mets and San Diego) in the previous three seasons.

But then, wah-lah. After a career year in Texas, in which he became an All-Star for the first time and hit .313 with 19 home runs, 44 doubles, 79 RBI and a .371 on-base percentage, a mediocre guy like Matthews suddenly becomes a $50 millionaire.

So how does the Matthews signing affect the Red Sox? Well, the Angels have long been rumored as a destination for left fielder Manny Ramirez. But now that the Angels have found a legitimate center fielder and leadoff hitter, GM Bill Stoneman indicated that the team could be done making big moves this offseason. Stoneman says he's decided that keeping Ervin Santana in the rotation and Scot Shields in the bullpen is more important than trading one or both pitchers for Vernon Wells, Andruw Jones, Miguel Tejada, or even Ramirez.

"We want Shields and Santana," Stoneman said. "Losing them to other clubs to fill other positions would be a tough thing to do."

Matthews clearly wasn't Stoneman's first choice, and he's acknowledged that the Angels' top two targets (Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano) slipped out of his grasp. But the Angles needed a center fielder more than a corner outfielder anyway.

After watching how far talented young pitching carried both the White Sox and Tigers in each of the last two years, most GMs acknowledge that it's pitching, not offense, that wins pennants and even Championships. And young pitchers who can't file for free agency are ideal because a team can control them for years at a reasonable cost through the arbitration process.

With seven different World Series Champions in the last seven years, including small market clubs such as Arizona, Florida, and St. Louis, the old adage that "money can buy a championship" hasn't necessarily proven correct. For example, this year the Yankees' $200 million payroll was $56 million more than the combined payrolls of the two teams that vied for the A.L. pennant -- the Tigers ($82 million) and A's ($62 million).

So this could be more than just a smoke screen. Stoneman really may choose to hang on to his young arms (Joe Saunders included), save the money that would otherwise go to Manny, and instead invest it in another pitcher, such as Barry Zito or Jason Schmidt - two West Coast guys who are both inclined to stay out West.

Where does that leave the Red Sox? Well, with Soriano no longer available and the market for Carlos Lee approaching insanity - the Baltimore Sun is reporting that the Orioles have offered Lee a six-year contract worth about $80 million to $90 million - legitimate sluggers are in limited supply and great demand. Sure Adam Dunn or Richie Sexon could be had for quality young pitching, but who wants to give up a good young arm for guys who strike out so often? Dunn led MLB with 194 whiffs last year, while Sexon finished seventh in that category with 154. Manny Ramirez is a true hitter (.321 last year), a guy who doesn't strike out often (102 Ks), and who suddenly appears quite valuable with just two years and $38 million remaining on his once onerous contract.

I, for one, am a Manny fan and would love to see him finish out his storied career in a Red Sox uniform. During his six years in Boston, Manny has knocked 234 home runs and 712 RBI. But apparently Manny doesn't want to return - again. Theo Epstein may finally have grown weary of the Man-Child's annual trade requests - he's apparently been given a list of ten teams Manny would accept a trade to. Theo has tried, unsuccessfully, to move him before, but the market for his services was never as hot as it is right now.

The Sox will move on and continue exploring other options. They would love to get Michael Young from Texas in exchange for Manny, but so far the Rangers have balked. The Sox will need an answer soon so they can know whether to continue their pursuit of Julio Lugo, who is garnering interest from other teams such as the Cubs and Blue Jays. The Hot Stove season can be like a chess match where one move leads to, or blocks, another. A team can quickly lose out while waiting for other pieces to fall into place. And each player signing also sets the market for others at the position, or those with similar numbers and skill sets.

As we all know, replacing Manny will be next to impossible, and a player of his stature is worth much more than mere prospects. The Sox would expect to receive an everyday impact player in the exchange. Having Manny protecting Big Papi again this year would be ideal with many of us, but let's just hope his manager and teammates feel the same way. Manny's act may have finally grown old. He quit on his team in the stretch, and his MRI proved it. Yes, he's a complicated and expensive headache, as Phillie GM Pat Gillick pointed out, but he's a very talented one too - Hall of fame caliber, in fact.

Those types of headaches don't come along often.

Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

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