LAS VEGAS -- The baseball season ended weeks ago, so we all have had time to digest, analyze, and debate the needs of the Red Sox. Now the Sox have arrived in Las Vegas for this week's annual winter meetings, where the 2009 roster could finally round into form.
As we have come to learn over the years, predicting the behavior of the Red Sox is a tricky thing.
But while searching for the ghost of Bugsy Siegel, here is a capsule look at five things the Red Sox should do:
1. Sign Mark TeixeiraWe've said it before and we'll say it again: Do they need him in the short term? No. But the long term is another story. In 2007, Teixeira turned down an eight-year, $144 million offer (that's precisely $18 million per season) from the Texas Rangers, who subsequently traded him to Atlanta. At this year's trading deadline, the disappointing Braves then dealt him to the Los Angeles Angels.
Obviously, both Teixeira and the Sox want the best deal possible. Agent Scott Boras is rumored to be seeking an 8- to 10-year contract, though Boras typically shoots for the moon. The Red Sox might be far more inclined to keep the deal at, say, six years while paying a higher average salary than they would over eight or 10.
If and when the Sox land Teixeira, Kevin Youkilis, Mike Lowell or David Ortiz would be affected, be it by trade or otherwise. Of those three, Youkilis has the least to prove entering 2009. Make your own judgments from there.
2. Find a catcherBy now, you know that Jason Varitek rejected salary arbitration, though he still can negotiate with (and return to) the Red Sox. While that decision was taking place, the Detroit Tigers reportedly have executed a trade with the Texas Rangers for catcher Gerald Laird, which obviously affects the trade market as Texas was the obvious trade partner for any team seeking to acquire a catcher.
At the start of this season, the Rangers had four catchers on their 40-man roster: Laird, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Taylor Teagarden, and Max Ramirez. An executive from one National League team suggested the Rangers would be willing to move two of those catchers, assuming Ramirez was one of them. So the Red Sox still could have the chance to make a deal with the Rangers despite the Laird trade.
Last week, general manager Theo Epstein said the trade market for catching was better than many believed. We'll see. The Sox believe they have a catching prospect in the lower minors in Luis Exposito, but that could be nothing but posturing in hopes of keeping down the price. Regardless, the Sox need to sign Varitek (unless someone else gives him three years) and trade for a young catcher who can serve as his apprentice.
3. Add major league pitching depthThe core of the staff is set and the Red Sox have added at least one arm (Ramon Ramirez) in the bullpen, so all in all, they're in pretty good shape. Of the top three starters -- Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Daisuke Matsuzaka -- none is currently older than 28. Tim Wakefield obviously provides value at the end of the rotation and the Sox have the group of Justin Masterson, Michael Bowden and Clay Buchholz as candidates to start or trade. (Masterson seems the most obvious choice to stay, as a starter or reliever.)
They would like to add a veteran arm and have touched base with the agents representing CC Sabathia, Derek Lowe, and A.J. Burnett, among others. But they have greater needs than in the starting rotation, which suggests they will be spending their money elsewhere. Look for them to make the kind of acquisition they made with Bartolo Colon last spring, be it on a short-term deal with someone like Brad Penny or in an incentive-laden contract with someone like Freddy Garcia.
Don't misunderstand. If there's a good pitcher to be had out there, the Red Sox will do it. But at this stage, the Sox have made it quite clear they will not risk anything substantive on a pitcher in his 30s, which makes a front-line starter unlikely.
4. Acquire a righthanded-hitting outfielder, preferably someone who can play center fieldCoco Crisp was a switch-hitter, of course, but you get the idea. The Sox need to fill his spot because of J.D. Drew's injury history and to protect themselves if Jacoby Ellsbury has extended difficulties. Drew and Ellsbury are lefthanded batters, which makes a righthanded hitter (or switch-hitter) absolutely imperative.
So far, the Sox have talked about a number of candidates, from Rocco Baldelli to Gabe Kapler. The greater likelihood here is that the Sox wait until later this month, when the free agent pool will increase with the addition of non-tender free agents -- those players who are not offered contracts by their existing teams because their salaries outweigh their value.
When the non-tenders hit the market, the price for reserve players will come down some. The Sox could then be drawn to someone like, say, Marlon Byrd, who has had stretches during his career where he has annihilated lefthanded pitching.
5. Pick up a utility man and/or shortstop and give away Julio LugoThere are lots of ways to go here, but here's the obvious problem: Lugo is occupying a roster spot and giving the Sox little in return. His skill set makes him less than desirable as a utility man; if he starts, he will block the development of Jed Lowrie. In the case of the latter, making him a utility man is an option only if you have a better player in front of him.
Last year, Lowrie clearly was the better player.
To deal Lugo, the Sox likely will have to eat a majority of the $18 million (over two years) remaining on his contract. If and when they do that, the Sox then can go out and sign a utility man who can play the infield and outfield (like Willie Bloomquist or Jerry Hairston) or a shortstop, depending on the identity of their righthanded-hitting outfielder (see item No. 4). If someone like Baldelli -- whose playing time must be limited because he suffers from mitochondrial disorder -- is acquired, the utility man needs to have outfield skills. If someone like Byrd or Kapler is the player of choice, the Sox can be more aggressive here and go for a shortstop.
Again, with these lower-profile positions, don't be surprised if the Sox wait until the non-tender free agents join the pool of available players.
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