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Red Sox trumped in Teixeira stakes

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / December 24, 2008
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The Red Sox never needed Mark Teixeira.

That's what I kept hearing from Sox defenders after the Yankees scored a knockout punch in the heavyweight fight with Boston. The Yankees, as we warned all along, swept in and grabbed the prized free agent of the 2008 offseason.

Of course the Red Sox needed Teixeira.

If they didn't, they wouldn't have offered an eight-year deal for $170 million. If they didn't, they wouldn't have flown to Texas to meet with Teixeira, then kept talking right up until yesterday afternoon when the Yankees came in and trumped them.

"From the moment we arrived in Boston in late 2001, we saw it as a monumental challenge," Sox owner John Henry said in an e-mail to the Associated Press, in reference to competing with the Yankees.

"We sought to reduce the financial gap and succeeded to a degree. Now with a new stadium filled with revenue opportunities, they have leaped away from us again. So we have to be even more careful in deploying our resources."

The Sox were willing to invest in Teixeira long-term, even with young Lars Anderson about a year or two away from the big leagues, because they believed a player of his caliber would not be available again in free agency for a while.

Sources close to the negotiations said Yankees general manager Brian Cashman did a tremendous job in sealing the deal. Meeting the "financial obligations" - as agent Scott Boras put it - by offering him the extra $10 million and throwing in the no-trade clause went a long way, but the bottom line is that the Yankees took a player the Red Sox had coveted for at least three years.

Does it guarantee a championship in the Bronx? Of course not. Nor would it have ensured a Red Sox championship had they won the battle.

Those who think the Sox didn't need Teixeira can make the argument that they already have a pretty formidable team that reached Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. But they had targeted Teixeira as the piece that could take them over that hump.

Teixeira, who will be 29 years old in April, is a really nice player - a combination of power, excellent on-base percentage, and super fielding. In terms of pure hitting, Manny Ramirez is better, but there's no doubt the Sox identified the right guy as the "special" type of player they were seeking.

The Sox put a value on that player, walked away for a short time, and raised their final offer only from $168 million to $170 million, according to a source close to the negotiations. The Nationals and Yankees both knew the Sox were hovering, and both increased their offers. Washington went to nine years at $180 million, and the Yankees trumped that with one fewer year at the same money and the no-trade.

The Angels had acquired Teixeira in July in a trade from the Braves, and he was the player they'd been dying to get for years to protect Vlad Guerrero in the batting order. But they have a no-nonsense negotiation strategy of "take it or leave it," and put their best offer at eight years and $160 million, so he slipped through their fingers.

The Nationals, who lost 102 games last season, were never willing to raise their average annual salary over $20 million. Now they might be suitors for Ramirez.

Those teams were losers in this one, but not more so than the Sox, who got the old double whammy - losing the player they wanted to the Yankees.

A general manager suggested yesterday that Derek Lowe has now become a key player.

"Not getting a hitter is one thing, but if [the Sox] could get a guy like Derek Lowe, a guy who is so good in the postseason, they could offset what the Yankees have done," said the GM. "I think countering with more pitching would be a better way to go than countering with another hitter who wouldn't be as good as Teixeira."

In the estimation of some baseball executives I spoke with yesterday, the Sox might have wandered off the path a bit by going after Teixeira, but it simply illustrated their concern for getting a potent bat in the middle of the order after losing Ramirez, a point that David Ortiz has made publicly.

So what do the Sox do now?

First priority remains a catcher. They have been in a wait-and-see mode with this, but the Teixeira signing might escalate things. Will offense be more of a priority in a catcher now? If so, Miguel Montero of Arizona might be more of a target, or Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who played winter ball in the Dominican for a few weeks but has returned home.

According to major league sources, Sox special assistant Allard Baird unfortunately watched Saltalamacchia on his worst defensive night in winter ball, though other scouts who watched him regularly thought he was fine behind the plate. He's certainly a player with the potential to hit for power.

Yesterday was a day when the Sox had a chance to distance themselves a bit from the Yankees and instead watched their archrivals inch a little closer.

But as Sox GM Theo Epstein says, "We're not trying to win December."

We wait to see how they counter.

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

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