Sunday, December 28, 2008

Mark Texiera and other offseason thoughts...

Looking at a listing of the highest payroll teams from last year, I noticed an alarming trend. Of the 4 highest paid teams in baseball only one made an appearance in the post-season, the Boston Red Sox. The other 3 (New York Yankees/Mets and Detroit Tigers) failed to make it to October. The Tigers completely bombed finishing last in the AL central, a game behind the lowly Kansas City Royals. The Mets had a respectable season finishing only 3 games out of the division and only one game out of the wild card, but a disappointment given the high hopes brought to the club by Johan Santana. Chances are if you're reading this, you know the Yankees finished 3rd in the AL East behind the Rays and Red Sox.

To find the teams that were successful last season you need to look lower on the list. The Tampa Bay Rays managed to win a tough AL East and make it to the World Series with a group of young, hungry talent that was well balanced on both sides of the plate.

The Yankees haven't learned the lesson provided by these upstarts from St. Petersburg and seems to have stuck with the plan that landed them outside the playoffs this year. This strategy isn't quite the same, the Yankees didn't give up any of the promising prospects of their farm system to pick up these big name players and these players are probably more reliable than some of their other big expenditures of recent years, but still...

So Mark Texiera will be in pinstripes this year, and perhaps Tex, CC and AJ will prove me wrong, but if the Yankees disappoint again next season I'll be the first to say I told you so!

In a way I'm glad the Red Sox didn't get this deal done with Texiera. To match the Yankees offer to fill a spot that doesn't actually need filling seems like an awful idea to me. I realize Mike Lowell is old, but he's a solid player that was crucial to the run in 2007 and was good when he was healthy in 2008 and I have no qualms about him playing 3rd base for us. I'm also happy that the Red Sox can keep Kevin Youkilis, a gold glove first baseman, at first base instead of moving him to third. This gives the Red Sox ample resources to make acquisitions prior to spring training most notably at catcher.

It kills me to say this, but I really hope they don't resign Jason Varitek. I know his agent is going to make some unreasonable demand for Tek's services. The tag line that has bought Tek a ton of slack in this town is that his contribution is his intangibles:

"Well, he may not have the best bat or the best arm, but he's great at working with the pitchers and a great clubhouse guy!"

First of all, I really question how hard it is to get good years out of a rotation that features Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Jon Lester. Varitek doesn't catch Wakefield and if he did do any work with Clay Bucholz then it really didn't show this season. Beckett and Matsuzaka saw ample success in their own careers before they ever threw a pitch to Jason Varitek. Maybe Varitek can claim some of the success of Jon Lester, but we all knew he was a top notch talent to begin with. A rotation with that much talent would most likely make any catcher look good.

I think these intangibles are important, but I just don't think it's enough anymore. The Red Sox have really transitioned away from a homerun hitting team to more of a smallball team. They have a number of hitters on staff who can get on base and have some speed once they get there. Manny Ramirez is long gone and not coming back. David Ortiz is not the clutch power hitter he once was and gets weaker without a big bat around him to force pitchers to pitch to him. The real contributors have been guys like Pedroia and Youkilis, sure, they'll hit a few homeruns a year, but their biggest contribution is their ability to get on base and help generate runs. This is where a guy like Varitek is lethal. There just can't be rally killing black holes in the lineup like Varitek. It seemed like so many potentially big innings ended with men on base and Varitek hitting a pop-up or striking out last season. I would much prefer to see the Red Sox pick up a promising young catcher that can drive in some runs.

The only way I'd be satisfied with Jason Varitek returning in a Sox uniform would be at much more reasonable "hometown discount" kind of price. I really can't imagine there's that much demand for his services around the league given his offensive production.

As far as the starting rotation goes, I wouldn't mind seeing them acquire one of the remaining free agents on the market now that the Yankee spending spree is probably over and the price tag has dropped a bit. Additional flexibility to move Justin Masterson to the bullpen, avoiding relying on Clay Bucholz as a 5th starter and have some depth in the event of an injury would all be benefits of picking up another free agent pitcher. With that said, if the deal isn't there I have no problems with the existing Red Sox rotation.

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