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Teixeira deal strengthens an already strong team

Alex Cora performed his best dive but couldn't come up with Torii Hunter's single to center in the fourth inning. Alex Cora performed his best dive but couldn't come up with Torii Hunter's single to center in the fourth inning. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / July 30, 2008

They had arguably the best manager in the game (Mike Scioscia), one of the best pitching staffs and closers (Frankie Rodriguez), but other than Vladimir Guerrero and the steady Garret Anderson, it appeared they lacked a little oomph in their lineup. Well, no more.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim continue to show the Red Sox they are no longer the pushover they were in the playoffs last year when Boston swept them in the Divisional Series. Torii Hunter, their exciting center fielder, kept using the word "scary" to describe their lineup yesterday after the Angels took one of the premier hitters off the trade market in acquiring former Red Sox draft pick Mark Teixeira from the Atlanta Braves for first baseman Casey Kotchman and minor leaguer Stephen Marek, a righthanded reliever who throws hard.

The Angels and their young general manager, Tony Reagins, are going for it.

The Angels, who now have no fear of the Red Sox, swept them in Anaheim last week and look as if they might sweep them again. John Lackey, the man who couldn't beat the Sox, is suddenly looking like a No. 1 starter and seemed buoyed by the trade as he no-hit them for 8 1/3 innings en route to a 6-2 win last night.

With the premier switch-hitting power hitter in baseball on board, the Angels might now be prohibitive favorites to win the American League pennant.

Though these deals don't ensure anything, should - or will - the Red Sox counter?

GM Theo Epstein isn't going to do anything against his philosophy of sticking to a long-range plan. He has a stable of top-tier prospects he'll only deal in the right trade. He can take this stand because he's won two championships in the last four years while the Angels haven't won since 2002.

Epstein could make a deal similar to the six-player swap the Yankees consummated last week when they obtained Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte from Pittsburgh for four players who don't fit into their plans. Epstein did that a year ago when he sent David Murphy, Kason Gabbard, and Engel Beltre to the Rangers for Eric Gagné. Murphy, a Rookie of the Year candidate, never would have played for Boston. Neither would Gabbard, except as a spot starter or fill-in. Beltre might be the one who got away, but we'll see how he develops.

The Red Sox still have time before tomorrow's trading deadline to do something beneficial. It appears unlikely - according to major league executives I spoke with last night - that Manny Ramírez will be dealt because the same problems exist now as existed in the past when the Sox attempted to move him. Nobody will give them the quality bat to make it worth their while. There's also the problem of Ramírez's right knee. While there is no structural damage, Ramírez, according to team sources, asked the Sox to place him on the disabled list last weekend, feeling he needed the rest.

The Sox still need a big bat that can protect David Ortiz, and short of a package with the Phillies involving Pat Burrell, none seem available.

Sometimes trades give a team a lift. Sometimes not making a trade reinforces to the players that they're good enough to win.

I think the Red Sox believe the latter to be true. But it can also be tough to watch the Yankees get better and also to watch the team that might be their biggest rival for the pennant - the Angels - get significantly better before their eyes.

The Angels made a deal the Red Sox were unwilling to make. But again, it comes down to need.

It's a deal that improves the Angels' short term - trading essentially three years and three months of Kotchman (the years he'd be under their control) for three months of Teixeira. Maybe the Angels will sign Teixeira long term. His agent, Scott Boras, owns a private box in Anaheim.

The Angels, who have pretty much sewn up the AL West, are banking on the addition of Teixeira to guarantee them a better performance in the playoffs. But how much better could Teixeira be than Kotchman, who was having a fine season? The Angels felt they needed to improve their power for the playoffs. We'll see if it pays off.

According to team and league sources, the Red Sox could have dealt Kevin Youkilis and either Craig Hansen or another top pitching prospect to the Braves for Teixeira, a player Boston has always liked. But in the end, Epstein did not want to trade away the two years and three months of control he has over Youkilis's contract for a three-month rental and ultimately a Ramírez-like contract, which Boras would demand.

Kotchman, 25, was hitting .287 with 24 doubles, 12 home runs, and 54 RBIs in 100 games. Teixeira, 28, was hitting .283 with 27 doubles, 20 homers, and 78 RBIs in 102 games. Teixeira was acquired by the Braves via a similar trade deadline deal last year when they got him from Texas along with Ron Mahay for catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, lefty Matt Harrison, infielder Elvis Andrus, righty Neftali Perez, and lefty Beau Jones.

"I'm excited. I'm excited to go to Atlanta and play for Bobby Cox," Kotchman said as he packed his belongings. "At the same time, my teammates know how I feel about them. I'll be rooting for them."

He added, "It's not hard for me [to leave]. I just feel thankful to go to a place that wants me."

Teixeira is a two-time Gold Glover at first, so the Angels might be upgrading a tad on defense as well. He was excited to join the Angels, going from an almost lost cause in Atlanta to a team that might go deep into the postseason.

"Any time you get traded into a pennant race, it's exciting," said Teixeira. "I'm looking forward to going to be a part of a great team with great players. It's going to be so much fun competing for the postseason."

So in consecutive series against the Yankees and Angels, the Sox have watched while both teams made big deals at Fenway. So far, the Red Sox have done nothing, but nothing might not be a bad thing.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com.

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