Given baseball’s current economic woes and the lack of suitors for Jason Varitek, the reported offer by the Red Sox certainly seems more than fair. Reports have the Sox offering Tek a two-year deal, with the first year paying him $5 million, and the second season having a club option at $5 mill or a player option at $3 mill.
Let’s face it, most potential landing spots for Tek have already filled their catcher slot. And, with most teams struggling financially, it would be hard to imagine another team ponying up more than $3 million a year in a mult-year deal for Tek at this point. If the Sox wanted to play hardball, they could put a $2 or $3 million deal on the table for Tek and dare him to leave it out there. He has no other alternatives. It might not be the best business decision for the Sox in terms of saving Benjamins, but they are doing right by their team captain. Once again, Sox management is handling this brilliantly.
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Superagent Scott Boras has now botched A-Rod’s uber-contract in 2007, mishandled Manny Ramirez, cost Jason Varitek millions of dollars, and alienated the second-biggest financial institution in baseball (the Red Sox) with how he handled the Teixeira negotiations. Might we see Boras start to lose some of his shine?
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I am still wondering what is happening in Anaheim. Before their defense imploded in October, they were arguably the best team in baseball last year. Sure, they lost K-Rod. But their biggest problem in recent years has been an offense that couldn’t support and protect Vlad Guerrero. Now they lose Teixeira, and although bats like Abreu, Manny and Adam Dunn are still out there, they don’t seem to be moving at all. It baffles me. They have millions of dollars they were preparing to give Teixeira in a mult-year deal; with Vlad in decline, their window of opportunity as an elite team is closing; never before have there been so many impact free agents desperate for a deal this late in the offseason. If this was our team, Sox fans would be yanking their hair out. If the Angels don’t make a move, the AL West could be wide open next season.
For fans of baseball, this is a great offseason. I mean, sure, as a Sox fan it is disappointing the Sox didn’t land Teixeira . . . and even more disappointing that the Yanks did. But as a fan of the game, offseason’s don’t get much better than this. Usually, most big free agents sign in a flurry between Thanksgiving and Christmas. And by New Year’s, we’re left to a long, eventless winter of waiting for pitchers and catchers.
But not this year. Here we are in early January, and we still have a number of big-name free agents out there — Manny, Abreu, Burrell, Griffey, Dunn, Sheets, Lowe — and it looks like a lot of these guys are still weeks away from signing. There’s every reason to expect important baseball moves to stretch out through this month, leaving us just two weeks shy of pitchers and catchers reporting.
And if that wasn’t good enough, we have the World Baseball Classic in March, meaning we’ll be able to watch meaningful baseball a month early. And, in the meantime, there’s always plenty of fantasy baseball prep to fill in the gaps.
Greatest . . . . offseason . . . . ever.
OTHER THOUGHTS: Beware of reports from baseball writers this time of year. For instance, Jon Heyman reports that “teams are lining up to sign Griffey.” But his source? Griffey’s agent. Heyman tends to do this a lot, and as a result he is often called a shill for Scott Boras. I never thought much of that until this offseason. But it seems Heyman (and he’s not the only reporter who does this) is too willing to just take what an agent says (a highly suspect source) and report it. And probably more often than not, that info turns out to be wrong. To me, Heyman loses a lot of credibility by letting himself be played by agents instead of doing some real digging and verifying. . . . . . . I’m excited by the launch of the MLB Network, and fully plan to waste much of my life watching it now. But I’m not too excited by the fact it is starting off by replaying the game’s of the 2008 World Series (YAWN!) over and over and over again. I’d like to see it broken up a bit, with more highlight shows, hot stove reports, old games, etc. I’m optimistic. . . . . . . Was that my brother who was blogging last week? I didn’t recognize his work because some of what he said made sense. I imagine we’ll next hear from him come prediction time in the spring, when he’ll be back to his more nonsensical form.
Let’s take a break for a moment from bemoaning the evilness of the Yankee purse and their ability to sign Sabathia, Burnett, Teixeira, and possibly more in a single offseason, and instead take a look at some of their vulnerabilities; weaknesses that aren’t going to just go away.
There’s currently an army of bloggers and columnists proclaiming you can’t just give the Yankees the championship right now, because anything can happen. And those people are right. However, right now I will just give the Yankees the division title. This is a team that won 89 games last season despite being plagued by injuries and marching out a starting rotation built on ductape. Now give that team the best young hitter in the game in Mark Teixeira, the stuff of CC Sabathia and a semi-healthy AJ Burnett, and the return of Chen-Mien Wang (sp?), and they should easily win an additional 10 games this season. That will mean a division title for New York, and it’ll set up an interesting Wild Card battle for the Red Sox with an ever-improving Tampa Bay team – a team adding David Price to their rotation, featuring the improving bats of BJ Upton and Evan Longoria, and remember their ace Scott Kazmir was sub-par last season. It should all make for an interesting 2009.
But while the Yankees look imposing and should certainly capture the division crown, even on paper they have deep flaws that could expose them to failure come October.
- Derek Jeter. Before I bash Jeter, let me first say I think he is a hell of a player. Jeter has “it”; he has that same competitive fire and passion that guys like Larry Bird and Lance Armstrong have; that willingness to go all out and come up big when it counts most. We’ve seen it in his legendary play against the A’s; we saw it when he went into the stands to make a catch against the Sox (the same game Nomar sat pouting on the bench). But despite that, Jeter has always been overrated. He has passion; but even in his prime his numbers weren’t overly impressive compared to second-tier shortstops, and his defense was average. Now he’s going to be 35 this season — an ancient age for shortstops. His defense is already a liability. When offensively-gifted shortstops get old, they usually get moved to thirdbase or firstbase. But with ARod and Teixeira in place for the next decade, Jeter won’t be moving to those spots. And you don’t want an aged former shortstop suddenly trying to run around the outfield. The Yanks are stuck with Jeter at short, and that could be a problem for years to come.
- Jorge Posada. Prior to last season, I said Posada’s new contract was a bad deal of monumental proportions. Thanks, Jorge, for proving me right in 2008. Anticipate him being dead weight the rest of that contract too. Take away his suspiciously-good 2007 contract-year campaign, and Posada has never been an exceedingly great hitter. And his catching abilities have many Yankee pitchers grumbling. By this mid-season, it will be apparent to Cashman and diehard Yank fans they need to address the catching issue. Don’t be surprised if they get in on Saltalamacchia or other young prospect discussions. But until then, we’ll watch Jorge drag the Yanks down.
- Crowded Outfield. To fill their three outfield positions and the DH spot, the Yanks have Matsui, Damon, Swisher, Cabrera and Nady. Matsui and Damon are both years passed their prime, have seen their numbers drop, and have been recently plagued by injuries. Maybe Matsui can bounce back, but given his age and injuries, expect him to drop off. At this point in his career, Damon is a shell of himself. Speed was his game, and now it is gone, making him slower on the basepaths and a liability on defense. Nady is good. But Swisher and his .220 average make Dave Kingman look like Rod Carew. (Although, with Swisher being cut from my fantasy baseball team, expect him to have a career year in 2009.) Cabrera is a wildcard — a moderately-talented player with the personal makeup the Yanks are desperate to ship out of town. In the outfield/DH department, both the Sox and Rays have the advantage over The Bombers.
- Starting Pitching. Despite signing Sabathia and Burnett, the dependability of the Yankee starting pitching staff is far from a sure thing. While I’ve often said that, given his size and number of innings pitched, Sabathia will eventually break down, that probably won’t happen this year. It could, but anyone could get injured. And its a safer bet to expect Sabathia to be Sabathia in 2009. That being said, its also a safe bet to expect Burnett to get injured and log under 25 starts. And,even when healthy, Burnett is touchable. Wang is good, but isn’t a top-tier starting pitcher. And while he’s been great at times, he’s also gone through stretches of being very vulnerable. Even if they are all healthy, the Yankee Top 3 aren’t any better than the Top 3 pitchers for the Sox or Rays. After that, the young arms of Chamberlain, Kennedy and Hughes are a wildcard. They all have talent, but given the way the Yankees have mismanaged their development into the bigs, there’s no way to know how they’ll react this season.
Y’know, the more I think about it, maybe it is too early to give the Yanks the division crown.
In the long term, the Yankees are shooting themselves in the foot with this deal. Drunk with riches as they prepare to open their new stadium, they have gone on an obscene spending spree this offseason, the likes of which have never before been seen in baseball . . . not even in New York.
Signing Sabathia and Burnett to monster contracts was an impressive-enough display of their economic advantage. Signing Manny to a three-year deal would have been the icing on the cake. But to sign Teixeira to a long term deal, plus likely signing another free agent pitcher soon, the Yankees have shown they just don’t care about competitive balance — and this time, they might have just pushed the rest of baseball too far.
With Teixeira, A-Rod and Sabathia all making north of $20 million, plus Jeter hovering in that neighborhood, the Yankees have a payroll that doesn’t just dwarf low- and mid-market teams, but will nearly double the payroll of most major market teams.
Ultimately, the Yankees would have been better off this offseason exercising a little restraint, and trying to balance player development with free agency . . . kind of like that team from Boston that has won two world championships the last few years. Instead, the Yankees are forcing baseball’s hand, especially at a time when most other teams are trimming their payroll in part because of the economy. With this move, the Yanks are ensuring a stiffer luxury tax penalty or salary cap in the not-too-distant future.
It’s been fascinating this offseason to watch teams finally calling Scott Boras’s bluff. For years his negotiating practice has been to create phantom offers, telling teams that he had deals on the table for years and dollars beyond all reason, and sending actual teams into panic mode to sign their coveted players. Remember back in 2005, when he said he had in hand an offer for more years and roughly $20 million more for Johnny Damon then what he ultimately signed with the Yankees for? And how come Tek has yet to sign with that team that supposedly offered him three years at an annual pay raise?
Now teams are calling him on it. It’s great to see the Angels and Red Sox saying “Show us your cards.” And how nice was it to see Boras scambling this week, trying to keep the Angels as players as well as the Sox, saying his player was still interested in them, desperately hoping to salvage some kind of bidding war? But now the bidding that many thought could fly well past $200 million is dropping faster than the stock market.
Teams are now going to start being wary of Boras’s negotiating style. And in the end, it might ultimately start to cost his players some money. If teams are hesitant to bid on players, that could keep the prices down. Whereas the Sox might have been willing to approach $190 million for Tex, maybe now they knock ten to fifteen million off that price and dare Boras and Tex to get a better offer (and possibly with a doomed franchise). And maybe – just maybe – players might start being better off with other agents.
Of course, there’s always some desperate team looking to do something stupid to make a splash. The fledgling Washington franchise might just not see the wisdom in restraint and do something crazy. The Nationals are kind of like North Korea with nuclear weapons — a desperate, jittery, insecure, more-than-half-crazy entity that might try to make itself important to the baseball world by dropping a salary bomb on Tex. Then again, we’ve seen this scenario play out again and again. And if Tex signs with the Nats — preventing them from signing other significant players — he deserves his years of misery . . . and so do the Nationals.
Anyone looking for proof that you can do something to curse your team look no further than this blog last night.
At 10:27 p.m., I posted an entry on how the Red Sox had a done deal with Mark Teixeira, and talked about how to move forward. Not 20 minutes later, John Henry sent out an e-mail stating the Sox were out of the Teixeira sweepstakes.
We still don’t know what happened yet. Maybe the Angels’ desperation got the better of them and they went to 10 years. They certainly were looking at a dark place if they missed out on Tex, and needed him more than the Sox. Maybe the foolish Nationals made a desperate insane offer. It wouldn’t be the first time a franchise that couldn’t afford a superstar bid out of their league (Texas/ARod). If that’s the case, expect them to look to deal him within three years . . . and expect Tex’s complaining about the franchise not winning to begin in two.
Still, all hope is not lost . . . yet. This is Scott Boras and the Red Sox . . . two entities who have said deals were dead in the past, only to have them be revived later on. So, until a deal is announced and a physical has taken place, this thing isn’t over. But it doesn’t look good.
If the Sox don’t get Tex, you have to start to wonder about next year. They have a good team in place, and, if everyone is healthy, they should be fine. But, given the age of Lowell and Tek, and given the fragility of JD Drew, and the uncertainty of Papi’s wrist, there will still be a lot to worry about heading into the season.
Reports are the Sox brass are currently in Texas with Scott Boras hammering out the final details of the contract for Mark Teixeira. The announcement that Tex is a member of the Sox could come any moment.
Now what? The Sox have seen this coming for awhile, and likely already have a trading partner for Mike Lowell. Expect him to be dealt almost immediately, as much in fairness to Lowell as anything else. The sooner Lowell knows where he is going, the better for him.
Then it is on to signing another starter. Of course, the Sox could slide Masterson, Bucholz or Bowden into that open rotation spot. But expect them to bring in a veteran to fill that spot to begin the year, with the three young arms being worked in gradually throughout the season, and maybe even locking down a rotation spot or two (Wake’s?) come September.
With so many young arms on the horizon, they likely won’t look for a long term deal, so no Lowe or deal for Peavy. We’re probably looking at a Paul Byrd type for a one-year deal, maybe they can score a Brad Penny for two-years. I still maintain Ben Sheets might be best served grabbing a one-year deal and cashing in next offseason, but he might just be satisfied with a sub-par annual salary but three- to four-year deal now.