Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Sunday, December 28, 2008

THE WORLD SERIES IS WON IN OCTOBER - NOT DECEMBER

It's a loss that surely pains Red Sox fans, as it may for years to come. And it's a loss that certainly perplexes millions of baseball fans in general. After clearing payroll over the course of the past year, the Red Sox had somewhere between $40-$60 million to spend this winter alone.

In the most basic terms, the Red Sox lost out on Mark Texiera because they wouldn't offer a 10-year contract, or enter into a protracted bidding war.

The Sox, as always, place a value on a player and refuse to go above it. Naturally, they start negotiations below that number, giving them room to move up to, but not above, it. They have generally negotiated in a rational and unemotional manner during the Theo Epstein era. The exceptions may be the four-year, $36 million deal for Julio Lugo, and the five-year, $70 million deal given to JD Drew. Neither player was worth their contract, and the Red Sox overbid against only themselves in both cases.

Going beyond a player's perceived value is a violation of organizational philosophy.

The Red Sox have largely adhered to that philosophy since the John Henry ownership/management group bought the Red Sox in December, 2001. The team is very leery of long term deals, as evidenced by the fact that the longest pacts granted over the past seven years are the six-year deals given to 26-year-old Daisuke Matsuzaka and 25-year-old Dustin Pedroia.

Though he was seeking a 10-year contract that would have reached $220 million with vesting options, Teixeira eventually settled on an eight-year deal with the Yankees. And though the Red Sox truly desired the slugging first baseman, a 10-year deal was out of the question from the start. In fact, Henry recently expressed concern about a contract of eight years or more.

“We all have limits,” he said. “Eight years is a very long time in baseball and everywhere else.”

Henry also said the amount the Red Sox are willing to spend on a free agent “depends on both” the economy and the player being sought.

“Baseball as a whole has not yet been hit by the financial crisis, but it will,” Henry noted. “The degree is in question and won’t be answered for a while.”

Apparently the Yankees don’t recognize this, or don’t agree. Sometimes it seems as if they operate in their own separate financial universe.

So far this winter, the Yankees’ spending spree amounts to $423.5 million — more than every other team in baseball combined. That amount, spent on just three free agents (CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett and Mark Teixeira), is more than the value of 16 of Major League Baseball’s 30 teams. Chew on that for a while.

It also means that the four highest paid players in the game are now on the Yankees' roster.

In fact, the Yankees will have nine players being paid $13 million or more in 2009. Those nine players – Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, A.J. Burnett, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon – combine for $159.1 million, more than the payroll of any other team. For the record, all teams have 25-man rosters.

But none of this means the Yankees will win the AL East or the Pennant, much less the World Series. They've gone this route for years, and signing the most highly touted and expensive free agents hasn't served them very well in this decade.

Mike Mussina, Jason Giambi, Jose Contreras, Hideki Matsui, Jaret Wright, Carl Pavano, Gary Sheffield, A-Rod, and Johnny Damon were all high priced free agents who were supposed to be the lynchpins to the Yankees 27th World Series championship. Obviously, it hasn't worked out as they all had intended.

Not everyone responds well to the pressure of playing in New York, to the intense media and fan scrutiny, or to the expectations of the Steinbrenners. It didn't sit well with Hideki Irabu, Randy Johnson, Javier Vazquez, or Jose Contreras.

The Yankees have had the best team in baseball, on paper, for most of this decade, and they have just one World Series title in this period to speak for it. That's because it's tough to repeat as champions in baseball. Despite the inequities in small and large markets, payrolls, and the ability to attract free agents, baseball has surprising parity, compared with other sports.

Let's put it in perspective:

- Over the past 10 years, eight different teams have won the World Series. In all, 15 teams made the World Series - half of the teams in baseball.

- Over the past 20 years, 14 different teams have won the World Series. In all, 22 teams made the World Series - two-thirds of the teams in baseball.

- Over the last 30 years, 20 different teams have won the World Series, and only four - Cubs, Mariners, Rangers and the Expos/Nationals - have failed to get there.

And by comparison:

- Only 14 teams have won the Super Bowl over the last 30 years.
- Only 14 different men have won Wimbledon over the last 30 years.
- Only 13 teams have won the Stanley Cup over the last 30 years.
- Only nine teams have won an NBA title over the last 30 years.

So, baseball has more parity than many might think, and only one team with a payroll north of $100 million has ever won the World Series – the Boston Red Sox, twice.

The reality is that games are won on the field, during the summer and fall; not in executive offices during the winter.

The Red Sox won't, and can't, make the same sort of free agent market splash as the Yankees this offseason. And they might not next winter either.

They will obtain a catcher, a utility infielder, a fourth outfielder, and perhaps another starting pitcher (Brad Penny, Ben Sheets or John Smoltz on a short term deal). But it isn't likely that any of them will be high priced, superstar free agents, or true difference makers. And a regrettable trade may have to be executed, particularly for a catcher (Miguel Monterro or perhaps Chris Iannetta).

Naturally, the Red Sox will never abandon free agents all together, not even the high priced ones. The upside is that they only cost money, not the highly prized players/prospects lost in trades.

However, the Sox will remain focused on a long term plan, protect their top prospects, and continue trying to improve from within through the draft and player development – the old fashioned way.

In times like these, it may be a requisite.

Copyright © 2008 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author’s consent.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Empire Strikes Back

If you’re a Yankees fan, you’ve got to be thrilled with the Bombers’ latest blockbuster signing. And you surely love their management team; they always get their man. Nothing stands in their way. They have the benefit of being financially loaded, which has lead to a roster equally loaded with high-powered, highly paid stars over the years.

What has to be most appealing to the Yankees and their fans is this: they stuck it to the Red Sox by stealthily striking at the last moment, stealing Boston’s free agent prize.

The Yankees quiet interest in Teixeira grew when the Red Sox couldn’t seal the deal in Dallas, and when the Angels announced that they had pulled out of the Teixeira sweepstakes. Apparently, Teixeira favored the Yankees all along and he conveyed that to them this week. And the Yankees were willing and able to trump the Red Sox $170 million offer. What's more, the first baseman also received a $5 million signing bonus, bringing the contract’s full value to $185 million.

However, it should be noted that over the last eight years the Yankees ability to attract the most coveted free agents hasn’t served them very well: Hideki Irabu, Jason Giambi, Jose Contreras, Javier Vazquez, Randy Johnson, Hideki Matsui, Jaret Wright, Carl Pavano, Kevin Brown, Kei Igawa, A-Rod, and Johnny Damon were all supposed to be key pieces to a championship, and even a dynasty. Obviously, it hasn’t worked out like that. Many of them were flat-out busts.

The Yanks free agent bonanza this offseason will cost them their first, second and third-round draft picks, further retarding a player development system that was once the best in the major leagues.

As for the Red Sox, while some may expect them to redirect their focus toward another free agent slugger, the question is who? It's hard to imagine the Sox contemplating any of the second tier guys, such as Milton Bradley, Adam Dunn, Bobby Abreau, or Pat Burrell, who are all corner outfielders. That's simply not their need at this time. And Jason Giambi is a soon-to-be 38-year-old first baseman/DH with defensive liabilities.

The reality is that the Sox don't need a corner outfielder or a first baseman. Teixeira was the most unique player available this winter, and the Red Sox were willing to reconstitute their roster to obtain him. He was perfect for the Sox due to his age (29), plate discipline (more walks than Ks last year), switch-hitting ability, and defensive skill (two Gold Gloves).

Now the Red Sox will have to burnish their relationship with Mike Lowell, who probably came to feel unwanted as this saga unfolded. After leaving more than $12 million dollars on the table from the Phillies last offseason (in the form of a guaranteed fourth year, which the Red Sox wouldn't match), you have to wonder if he is now regretting that decision.

The absence of Teixeira makes the re-signing of Jason Varitek less likely at this point. The Sox need offense from all positions now, in a way they wouldn't have with Teixeira in the order. Now the Sox need an offensive-oriented catcher, as well as a utility infielder and fourth outfielder that can hit. With Teixeira, the Sox would have also felt more comfortable with letting Jed Lowrie mature and develop. There would have been less pressure on the young shortstop, and if he hit .270, with six to eight homers, it would have been acceptable. Is that the case now?

The Red Sox need offense, and Teixeira would have been a difference maker. Their loss is the Yankees' gain. That's a double-whammy.

The offseason has developed into its own unique theater between the Red Sox and Yankees. At this point, all the Yankees have won is the PR battle and the headlines. Whether that translates into victories on the field remains to be seen.

On paper, at least, the Yankees have gotten better, while the Red Sox have largely remained the same to this point. They may still improve themselves in some way, or ways, but nothing will likely compare to the impact Teixeira would have had on the batting order. Offensively, the Sox may only be able to improve marginally now. If they could find a way to land an ace like Roy Oswalt or Jake Peavy, that would supplant the loss of Teixeira. But such an acquisition is probably just a pipe dream.

One thing's for certain in the highly competitive AL East; if you're not getting better, you're getting worse.

Copyright © 2008 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author’s consent.

Monday, December 22, 2008

THE ERROR OF THEIR WAYS

Scott Boras and Mark Teixeira may have finally overplayed their hand.

First, Red Sox owner John Henry said that the Red Sox "are not going to be a factor" in signing the free agent first baseman. And now the Angels have publicly, perhaps decisively, removed themselves from the bidding by withdrawing their reported eight-year, $160 million offer. Angels GM Tony Reagins called the offer both "fair" and "substantial." It was also final. And now it's evidently off the table.

Having the Red Sox and Angels drop out of the running for your client is not beneficial. The fact that two of the richest, big-market teams in baseball have withdraw from negotiations has only weakened Boras's and Teixeira's bargaining power and leverage.

However, I'm inclined to believe that the Red Sox are not truly out of this — and the Angels retreat will surely help them. Apparently the executives in Anaheim surmised that Teixeira really does want to play for an eastern team after all.

That leaves the Orioles and their seven-year, $140 million offer, plus the Nationals and their eight-year, $160 million dollar offer.

The Yankees initial offer has been pulled from the table, and Hal Steinbrenner says the team has no intention of getting further involved. Sure, this could merely be a decoy before they swoop in with a massive offer that outsizes all the others. But the Yanks have already dropped nearly a quarter-billion dollars on just two pitchers this offseason. No matter what anyone is inclined to believe, they are not immune to a crumbling economy.

That leaves the Red Sox, whose offer has been reported as being at least $170 over eight years. The only team with two World Series titles and four ALCS appearances in the past six years made the biggest offer, and it still wasn't enough. It makes you wonder, what else would it take to get the deal done? A partial ownership stake in the team?

These negotiations have turned quite unsavory. Boras's less-than-stellar reputation amongst fans and baseball executives has likely declined even further. The strange thing is that Teixeira, whose rep had been rock solid and respectable to this point, will likely be tainted as well.

When the economy is tanking and so many Americans are laid off, evicted, foreclosed on, or otherwise suffering, having some guy insist that $170 million just isn't enough sounds disgusting, selfish and out-of-touch. Let's face it, this guy will collect at least $20 million annually to play baseball for seven months a year.

This is Christmastime, and for Mr. Teixeira it really is a "Wonderful Life."

Perhaps, hopefully, his guardian angel will teach him the error of his ways.

Copyright © 2008 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author’s consent.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Red Sox and Teixeira Divorced Before the Marriage?

It seems the Red Sox were quite serious and determined in their pursuit of free agent Mark Teixeira. After all, the top brass flew to Texas to meet with the highly prized first baseman.

When John Henry, Larry Luchino, and Theo Epstein arrive in mass to present a reported eight-year, $184 million offer ($23 million annually), it's clear that they are sincere and they mean business. But, apparently, it was not the highest bid.

It seems there was a high stakes of chicken going on between the Red Sox brass and the Teixeira/Boras camp. And the Red Sox blinked. It must have caught Teixeira off guard. I can't help but wonder if he is, or will be, angry with Boras. Taking the Red Sox out of any negotiation certainly doesn't help a player's bargaining leverage.

In the end, what's the difference between $180 million and $190 million? Once you reach a certain level of wealth, doesn't a few million just cease to matter? Not that I would know, but I can't imagine it affects the size of the house you live in, the boat you cruise around on, or the fleet of cars you drive.

A-Rod should have been Teixeira's example; you can take the highest offer from a bad team (Texas) and still end up miserable. No one likes continually losing games; the season loses all significance very quickly. For both the Orioles and Nationals -- the Red Sox primary bidding competitors -- the 2009 season is likely already over. The Nats lost a league-worst 102 games last season. The O's haven't had a winning season in 12 years. Wouldn't $23 million per year with the Red Sox be superior to even $25 million per with either of those two teams?

The reality is, Boras doesn't have to play for a bad team and suffer through years of losing seasons. Naturally, he wants his client to go to the highest bidder since he directly benefits as a result. That seems like a conflict of interest, in my view.

When asked what Teixeira was looking for in a team, Boras had this to say:

"The club's ability to win and win in the long term. Commitment by the owners, long term, to the franchise being successful. Where they play, the city they're in. He's played in both leagues. He's had an opportunity to make an analysis of what's best for he and his family. And, of course, the economics too."

It all sounds like so much bullshit now -- except for the part about the "economics."

However, this may not yet be over for the Sox and Teixeira. At least Teixeira got the straight talk from the Sox brass, without Boras as the filter. They were clearly and accurately represented and Teixeira surely knows how much they admire and covet him.

A-Rod was said to be furious with Boras for his horrible advice a year ago. He ended up going back to the Yankees and negotiating his own deal with his tail between his legs. And Gary Sheffield had a rather contentious parting with Boras when he felt that he was poorly represented, as well.

I don't know if that will happen again this time, but I think that Boras has once again lost some of his remaining luster. Other players are watching, and they will remember this no matter how it eventually turns out.

Will Red Sox Feel the Economic Pinch?

The Red Sox have seen a number salaries come off the books this winter, giving them as much as $40 million-$60 million to spend on free agents, namely Mark Teixeira.

In between the end of 2007 and the start of 2008, the club cut payroll by roughly $15 million. And since the middle of this year, Theo Epstein has cut roughly an additional $40 million in the contracts of Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling, Coco Crisp, Jason Varitek, Paul Byrd, Mark Kotsay, Sean Casey and Mike Timlin, etc.

This would allow the Sox to pay Teixeira in excess of $20 million annually and still come in at, or below, last year's payroll. And if the Sox are able to deal Mike Lowell and Julio Lugo as well, there would be even more savings.

However, in the midst all the speculation about the Red Sox offer to Teixeira (rumored to be eight-years and at least $160 million), here's something to consider:

In November, Red Sox officials froze ticket prices for the first time since baseball’s bitter work stoppage in 1994-95, signaling their concerns about the economy and the willingness of fans to continually shell out for the most expensive tickets in baseball. Perhaps these officials recognize that the longest sellout streak in the history of major league baseball could come to an abrupt end in 2009.

The warning signs are clear.

Close to 2,000 seats for the final two American League Championship Series games at Fenway Park went unclaimed online at face value.

National television ratings for the 2008 Major League Baseball regular season were down for FOX, ESPN, and TBS, with declines posted at the regional level, as well. The declines weren't isolated to just the smaller markets either. Even the vaunted Red Sox, and their network, were affected.

Though the Red Sox drew more than 3 million fans for the first time in their history last season, NESN’s ratings for Red Sox games dropped by roughly 20 percent, which will have an affect on the network’s advertising rates.

I'm sure John Henry, like most other owners, is taking all of this into consideration, and perhaps that's why the Hot Stove has been so cool so far this off-season. Will families finally decide that $250 for a family of four at Fenway Park is too expensive?

One GM said the following to Peter Gammons during the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas:

"I believe that the economy is going to have a much greater impact on the baseball industry than most of those people wandering the halls of the Bellagio realize. I believe that if one manages one's payroll, there will be some very attractive, impactful players available come June and July because their teams have to deal with economic realities. So if some big-market teams lose out on certain players now, they can wait and add significantly during the season if they have the capital."

It's a strategy that many teams are surely pondering right now.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Yanks Signings Reek of Desperation

After missing the playoffs for the first time in 13 years, the Yankees appear desperate.

First, they gave CC Sabathia—listed by the Brewers as 311 pounds—the largest-ever contract for a pitcher. And then they gave AJ Burnett—who has been on the disabled list nine times since 2000 -- a five-year contract.

It’s hard to understand why the Yanks gave Sabathia an out clause after just three years. What’s in it for them? If he’s successful, he’ll simply opt out for a longer, richer deal. And if he hates NYC, its fans, its media, and the pressure-cooker environment, he’ll also opt out. But if he’s injured, or otherwise a bust, the Yanks are on the hook for the whole seven years.

I always believed that any talk of the Red Sox signing Burnett was nothing more than a smoke screen. His injury history is a virtual red flag. At 32, he has won more than 12 games exactly once and made more than 30 starts just twice. It’s hardly a coincidence that his two best seasons came when he was either entering the final year of a long-term deal or entering a year in which he could opt out of a contract. His injury history and lack of motivation were more than enough reason for any team not to grant him a five-year, $82.5 million deal. But these are the uber-wealthy New York Yankees. And they are clearly desperate.

They are opening a new ballpark this spring, and they are a team that has always used marquee names to sell seats. They need to do that now more than ever. All that new construction means that there are rather large bills to pay. Yet the team just committed more than $243 million to just two pitchers in the span of just 48 hours. Or, put another way, they're on the hook for nearly a quarter-of-a-billion dollars. Wow. They must have their own money printing machine in the Bronx. Perhaps the most striking aspect is that these two players will only take the field every five days.

So far, the 28-year-old Sabathia has proven reliable, making at least 30 starts in all but one of his eight seasons. But how long that trend will last is anybody's guess. Perhaps some of the concern is overstated. Prior to 2007, the huge righty had thrown 200+ innings just once (2002). However, over the last two seasons, Sabathia has tossed a whopping 494 innings; that's the core of the concern. And it's not just the stress on his left shoulder and elbow, either. Scouts wonder how his knees will hold up under the stress of his 300-pound mass. That's anybody's guess. Though you can train muscles to become stronger, the same cannot be said for knee joints. Daisuke Matsuzka's knees are just as strong, and they're only supporting 185 pounds. You can't change the inherent design, or limitations, of the human knee structure.

Even as the Yankees doled out $161 million to Sabathia, there were plentiful cautionary tales for them to have considered.

Long-term contracts for pitchers are generally considered risky by baseball executives, and seven years is one hell of a commitment. But when it comes to $100 million deals, teams are simply flirting with disaster. Prior to this week, there had been only four $100 million contracts for pitchers, all of whom have been plagued by injuries, ineffectiveness or both.

Kevin Brown got a seven-year, $105 million deal from the Dodgers before the 1999 season. For their investment, the Doggers got 58 wins and 32 losses over five years. That prompted them to deal the disappointing Brown to the Yankees, for whom he went 14-13 in two years. That amounts to a 72-45 record over seven seasons, or roughly ten wins per year. Can you say bust?

The Rockies gave Mike Hampton an eight-year, $121 million deal before the 2001 season. For their money, the Rox got 21 wins and 28 losses. That had to hurt. Speaking of hurt, Hampton missed the entire 2006 and 2007 seasons and was slowed by injuries in other seasons, as well. Colorado gave up on Hampton, shipping him to Atlanta, where he proceeded to go 35-24. For the record, Hampton recorded 56 wins and 52 losses over the span of his monster pact. Put that one in the "bad investment" column.

Barry Zito won the 2002 AL Cy Young award with the A's, which got him a seven-year, $126 million pact from the Giants after the 2006 season. In return for this largesse, Zito has gone 21-30 in two highly disappointing seasons in San Francisco.

Finally, last winter, the Mets gave ace lefty Johan Santana a six-year, $137.5 million contract. After going 16-7 with a 2.53 ERA this year, he is the only one who has panned out -- so far.

None of the four previous $100 million pitchers -- Brown, Hampton, Zito or Santana -- has pitched in the playoffs for the team he signed with. In fact, none of the teams that have signed a pitcher to a nine-figure deal has made the playoffs while that pitcher has been on their roster.

However, the Yankees were unfazed, offering Sabathia an initial six-year, $140 million pact. Yet, Sabathia was also unfazed; he ignored it. Though the offer was one-year and $40 million better than the Brewers' offer -- the only other offer -- he wouldn't bite. He really wanted to go home to play on the West Coast and, more specifically, to play in the National League, where he could hit. That's old school. Yet, for all their talk, the Angles, Dodgers, and Giants never even made formal offers.

More determined than ever, the Yankees continued bidding against themselves, and raising the stakes. With only two offers to choose from, and $40 million separating them, Sabathia took the offer he couldn't refuse -- along with his three-year out clause. The Yankees got suckered.

And when they signed AJ Burnett to a guaranteed five-year, $82.5 million deal two days later, they got suckered again. But they did it to themselves.

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Prediction: Red Sox Will Nab Teixeira

ESPN is reporting that the Nationals have offered Mark Teixeira an 8-year, $160 million contract.

At the same time, SI.com is reporting that, “The Red Sox are one of the most aggressive pursuers of Teixeira, with several executives predicting he may wind up there.”

The Nationals’ offer sets the bar for Teixeira’s services. Will the Sox have to offer more money and/or years, or does playing in Boston, for a winning team, with very a passionate fan base mean more than playing near his hometown in Maryland?

Naturally Scott Boras will try to draw this out as long as he can. However, Teixeira has said he would like a resolution by Christmas.

The question is, now that the Angels have lost out on CC Sabathia, will they be all the more motivated to retain Teixeira? Could they swoop in with an overwhelming offer? The LA Times says the Angels are reluctant to go past seven years for Teixeira. And though they still need more pitching, the Yankees can never be discounted.

However, unfortunately for the Angels, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reports that two major-league sources said Teixeira would prefer to be on the East Coast for family reasons. With that in mind, the Nationals and Orioles are pushing hard to bring Teixeira back to the Maryland area.

Last night, Rosenthal reported that, according to a major-league source, the Red Sox are making progress in their quest to sign Teixeira. “Headway was being made earlier today,” the source said. And a rival general manager whose plans could be affected by the Red Sox’s addition of Teixeira also indicated that a deal was getting closer.

Teixeira is seeking a 10-year contract for at least $20 million per season. The Red Sox preference would be to sign him to a deal between six and eight years.

The free-agent first baseman will be 29 on April 11, coinciding with the opening week of the 2009 season. By all indications, he’s a solid long-term investment. Eight years seems like a reasonable contract-length for a player of Teixeira’s age and ability. But if the Sox are pushed to 10 years, they would likely deem it acceptable. They will do whatever it takes to get it done. Teixeira is the big fish they’re determined not to let slip away.

Having never hit fewer than 26 homers in his six major-league seasons, Teixeira certainly seems like a better long-term investment than Sabathia. Paying astronomical money to a guy who plays every day makes more sense than guaranteeing it to one who plays every five days, and who has weight issues. Questions about his long term durability will continue to dog Sabathia for at least the next couple of years.

Teixeira remains the hottest commodity on the free agent market because he’s been durable, injury-free, and highly productive. Over six full seasons, his career stat line looks like this: .290 average, .919 OPS, 203 HR, 676 RBI

Last season, split between the Braves and Angels, Teixeira hit .308, with 33 home runs and 121 RBI. He’s proven himself in both leagues. He is an All Star, a two-time Gold Glove winner, and a two-time Silver Slugger winner.

Without question, Teixeira is a very solid hitter and a bona fide slugger; he is one of just five players in Major League history to hit at least 100 home runs in his first three seasons.

For these reasons, he has been described as the “apple of Theo Epstein’s eye.” This is why the Red Sox will not fail in their effort to bring home their single highest priority this offseason.