Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Sunday, November 11, 2007



Everyone loves Mike Lowell. We all do; Red Sox Nation, his teammates, Red Sox management, the media -- everyone loves this guy. Even opposing players like and respect him. Why wouldn't they? And other GM's admire him so much that he will be one of the most highly sought after free agents this off-season.

Lowell is a team guy who took the young players -- like Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury -- under his wing and showed them the Big League way. Lowell is a leader in the clubhouse, in the dugout, and on the field. And he is a winner, owning two World Series rings. He is steady, reliable, and a consummate gentleman. He is everything you want in a ballplayer playing on your team.

But he also a free agent who can now lend his services to the highest bidder. And it is important during a multi-million dollar business negotiation -- which this most certainly is -- not to let emotions get in the way and blind one from making good, sound decisions. That's the position the Red Sox must take, and surely are taking.

Lowell had a career year in 2007 with his .324 average, .378 OBP, and 120 RBI. But he will be 34 on Opening Day, and chances are he will never approach numbers like these ever again.

Now, I'm not implying that Lowell will begin a freefall or a precipitous drop-off in production, but I am suggesting that you've seen the best of him and that he will not approach those prodigious numbers again.

Even Sox' stat guru Bill James foresees a drop-off for Lowell next season that would be more more in line with his career numbers -- .282, 17 HR, 81 RBI.

The Sox have offered Lowell a three-year contract of between $12-$15 million annually, which puts the total package at between $36-$45 million.

But what if some other team -- or teams -- offers a guaranteed fourth year, pushing the contract to somewhere between $48-$60 million?

What should the Red Sox do then? Should they lose their minds and match that offer? Or should good sense and judgment prevail, meaning that the Sox would have to look elsewhere for Lowell's replacement?

Who that successor would be in such a scenario is unclear, but there are many suggestions floating around in the Hot Stove rumor mill.

Miguel Cabrerra is continually mentioned, with the stipulation that the Sox would move Kevin Youkilis back to his original third base position. But Cabrerra won't come cheaply in terms of trade compensation or contract demands. Word is that the Nationals asked for both Jacoby Ellsbury and Clay Buccholz in return. Yeah, right. Like that's gonna happen.

And there's also the possibility of the Sox continuing their in-house youth movement. Chris Carter, the left-handed hitting Pawtucket first baseman who came to the Sox in the Wily Mo Pena deal, is intriguing. Carter is just 25 and hit 19 home runs with 97 RBI in 136 games for Arizona’s Triple-A Tucson team this season. He appears ready for prime time.

Either move would necessitate shifting Youkilis back to third. But where is the wisdom in moving a 28-year-old who just won his first Gold Glove award to another position?

Joe Crede could be had, but that would represent a downgrade. And it's been rumored that Washington's Ryan Zimmerman could be available, but that would be an expensive move. Zimmerman is a rising star and acquiring him would also cost the Sox someone like Jon Lester or Buccholz in a trade.

Whatever the case may be, the Sox likely won't budge much on their offer to Lowell. They have a history of setting a value on a player and not going over it. That's an example of not letting emotions get in the way of sound judgment, and it's served them well in the cases of Pedro Martinez and Johnny Damon.

If Lowell were to take a lesser offer from the Red Sox, and forgo a larger offer from another team that made a strong push for him, it would reveal just how much he loves Boston, the Red Sox, and their fans. No agent -- who gets a percentage of his client's contract -- would encourage his client to take a lesser offer. Such a decision would be all about Lowell, his priorities and his wishes.

Players like to say that "it's not about the money," when it's almost always about the money. But how much of a difference would a few million dollars make to a guy who is already a multi-millionaire? It won't change the car he drives, the size of the house he lives in, its location, or the type of yacht he cruises around on during the off-season.

Community must count for something. Liking where you live has to factor into the equation, as do the happiness and wishes of a wife and child. Lowell seems to love Boston, and Boston surely loves him. Playing on a reigning World Series champion and perennial contender has to count too.

Making millions of dollars annually, living in Boston, and playing for the Red Sox isn't such a bad deal. There are worse possibilities, aren't there?

And the truth is, Lowell was paid generously -- $9 million, in fact -- for what he did this season. Contracts should be forward looking, not based on what a player did in the past, during his prime. Lowell is not entering his prime. He is either peaking or has done so already. And there is a history of such declines with other great third basemen.

George Brett's production dropped considerably after the age of 36. The same was true of Eddie Mathews, Brooks Robinson and Robin Ventura. Players trail off in their late 30s and the final two years of Lowell's deal have to be of concern.

Let's hope that sanity prevails and that Lowell accepts the Red Sox' generous three-year offer. This is one of those situations that seems to be good for everyone involved.

Yes, this will be the last long-term deal that Lowell will sign, but he has been compensated quite generously in his career and this contract amounts to a considerable pay raise. He and the Red Sox are a perfect fit, and it's likely that greener pastures are not to be found elsewhere.

The Sox are an excellent team with an ideal blend of veterans and youth. They have an excellent management team and farm system, and should contend for the foreseeable future.

This should be a no-brainer for Lowell. A fourth year somewhere else won't amount to a better deal. Staying with the Red Sox is the classic example of less being more.

Copyright © 2007 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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