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A missed mark

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  June 9, 2009 12:40 PM

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Even now, as Mark Teixeira continues to pound away at opposing pitchers at a frantic rate, the impact of his arrival in the American League East has yet to be felt. For the Red Sox, after all, Teixeira was not as much about the present as he was about the future.

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And so, amid the never-ending saga of David Ortiz, it's important to keep in mind that Teixeira never would have replaced Ortiz, anyway. Teixeira would have been at first base and Kevin Youkilis at third, leaving Mike Lowell on the outside of a Red Sox lineup that currently ranks seventh in the American League in runs scored. But come the end of this season, particularly if the Red Sox fail to retain Jason Bay, the Yankees' signing of Teixeira at the Red Sox' expense could loom as a pivotal turning point in baseball’s fiercest division.

At the moment, as the Red Sox and New York Yankees are set to begin a three-game series at Fenway Park tonight, Teixeira is at the top of his game. In his last 32 games, he is batting .349 with 15 home runs, 41 RBIs, 28 runs scored, and a 1.204 OPS. He and fellow bonus baby CC Sabathia have hit stride to lead the Yankees into first place in the AL East, producing the results the Bombers expected when shelling out a potential of roughly $350 million to those two players in long-term contracts.

"I knew Sabathia and Teixeira’s history as slow starters,’’ Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said over the weekend. "Those guys usually take a while to get going, and then you have to add in [the effect of] the transition to New York. Off the top of my head, the only player I can think of who didn’t have a transition was Johnny Damon. He performed from Day 1 pretty much, but he came from a high-octane situation in Boston.’’

Indeed, from Jose Contreras and Curt Schilling to Alex Rodriguez and Damon, the history of the Red Sox and Yankees has been intertwined in recent years. When the Yankees signed Damon, for instance, the Red Sox wagered that Coco Crisp would be more productive by 2009 than Damon would be, particularly when Damon’s cost ballooned to $13 million per season. As it has turned out, Crisp is now in Kansas City (traded for the valuable Ramon Ramirez) while, since the start of 2007, Damon has performed as well as (or better than?) J.D. Drew, whose $14 million annual average salary is the highest on the Boston roster.

Since the start of 2007, Damon is batting .289 with a .365 on-base percentage, .449 slugging percentage and .814 OPS to go along with 41 home runs, 168 RBIs and 234 runs scored in 337 games. Drew has batted .272 with a .388 on-base percentage, .468 slugging percentage and .876 OPS to go along with 38 home runs, 155 RBIs and 195 runs scored in 299 games. While Damon becomes a free agent this fall, Drew will remain under contract through 2011.

This brings us back to Teixeira, who might have been the centerpiece of the Boston lineup for years to come. Given the struggles of Ortiz, the Sox’ failure to sign Teixeira now leaves them with something of a long-term predicament offensively. While top prospect Lars Anderson has picked things up recently at Double A Portland -- he is batting .389 with five doubles and a home run in his last nine games -- there is still no telling when or if Anderson will be a productive major leaguer. Even then, Anderson will need help beyond Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia, which seemingly gives Jason Bay even greater leverage with the Sox as he approaches free agency as the best positional player on the free agent market.

Given the resources with which the Red Sox operate, we all know that they forever will have options, and Theo Epstein rarely fails to have an alternative plan for virtually every scenario. So long as the Sox have a big payroll and a productive farm system – kudos to the baseball operations department for this – they will have wherewithal to enhance the big-league roster with signings and trades. Still, given the amount of dead money the Sox now have on the roster -- Ortiz, Lugo and Drew will earn a combined average of $36 million per season, this year and next -- it now seems downright silly that the Sox may have lost out on Teixeira for as little as $2 million a year, especially when Teixeira would not have required a forfeiture of talent like that they sacrificed in, say, the Josh Beckett deal (Hanley Ramirez).

Many of us don’t regret the Beckett move and never will. But the point is that the Red Sox might have had Teixeira for nothing more than money, which now seems like an even better deal at a time when the Sox have some wasted money on their payroll.

At the moment, the Sox are doing fine without Teixeira, thanks largely to Mike Lowell’s return from hip surgery. (Where would the 2009 Sox be without him?) In 2009, at least, Ortiz was going to be here one way or the other. But as the Red Sox move forward, closer to the end of Bay’s contract with the team, those negotiations are going to take on considerable importance for a club that must either pay him or sacrifice the talent to replace him.

Should it come to that, you’d be wise to look much deeper than what happened with Jason Bay. You’d be wise to look further, perhaps all the way back to Mark Teixeira.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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