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Pay to play - elsewhere

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff December 10, 2009 10:33 AM

Anyone else want one of the Red Sox players? They'll pay you.

The fact that the Red Sox have to eat almost all of Mike Lowell's $12 million 2010 salary in order to get a deal done with the Texas Rangers for promising slugger Max Ramirez illustrates just how limited his trade market was. Despite what most Lowell fanatics will tell you, "class" and "dignity" combine to produce a UZR rating of 0.0.

But in lieu of another year of watching a gimpy Lowell play out his contract in Boston next season, Theo Epstein decided to get some value in return for him. Whatever the cost.

The cost is probably around $9 million. Add that to the $9 million Boston will pay Julio Lugo to play in the Midwest, and it's easy to see why they're so pent up about sinking empty dollars into the final year of a free agent's contract. They're wasting too much of it elsewhere.

Unlike the Lugo deal, which nobody outside of the offices of Yawkey Way liked, signing Lowell to a three-year deal following the 2007 World Series was more generally accepted, if only because the deafening chants of the "Sign Mike Lowell" crowd became overwhelming. At the time, many rightfully saw it as an unwise signing for the immediate future of the club, and they were right. In each of the first two years of the deal, Lowell wouldn't come close to the 653 plate appearances he had in his contract season.

Still, it wasn't a terrible contract in that the Red Sox were pretty limited in their options. It's still going to cost them $9 million for Max Ramirez, plus whatever it takes to land Adrian Beltre (coincidentally, the No. 2 most similar batter to Mike Lowell, according to Baseball Reference's Similarity Scores).

In landing Ramirez (or as Surviving Grady calls it, "Part of Theo's 'If I can't have Hanley Ramirez, by God, I'll sign everyone else in baseball named Ramirez' master plan), the Sox have a guy who may spell the end of Jason Varitek's Boston stay (That will only cost them $3 million to say goodbye, so we're up to $21 million now). Unless the Sox don't sign Beltre, shift Kevin Youkilis to third, make Victor Martinez the full-time catcher, and platoon Varitek and Ramirez. Bridge indeed.

Or we can keep talking about Adrian Gonzalez if you prefer, though I prefer my fantasies with a little more cleavage.

In any case, Ramirez, who was one of 27 highly-lauded catchers in the Rangers system (and oddly enough, the only one who didn't come up in trade talks for Clay Buchholz last offseason) before a wrist injury derailed his 2009 season, has an .889 OPS over six minor league seasons, and could be ready to make the club out of spring training. He adds an interesting, young bat with some pop, something the Red Sox desperately need. Outside of the potential of Lars Anderson, power hitters in the system are few, far between, and non-existent.

Considering the dearth of interest in Lowell, Ramirez is a pretty nice pickup, though one that will cost $9 million. For all the goodwill he spread with his professional attitude, Lowell was a nice player in Boston, but the last two seasons illustrated that the Red Sox might have been better off in the long run by letting him run off to the Phillies for $48 million. Lowell's lack of mobility may give Texas little more than a rah-rah guy, but that might be what the young club needs.

So, another clubhouse leader is gone, soon to be replaced by…Milton Bradley? Great for bridge seasons and all, Theo, but maybe Red Sox fans ought to bridge their cash over to 2011 along with the hopes you want them to stifle for next season. That's only fair, right?

It's one thing to have a bridge season because your minor league talent isn't ready. But when it's because you're too busy cleaning up the mistakes of past seasons, it speaks to some level of incompetence.

Think about this for a moment: In 2008, the Florida Marlins had a $21.8 million payroll. In 2010, the Red Sox will pay in the neighborhood of $18 million to have two players play elsewhere. And John Henry is whining about the luxury tax?

Of course, the alternative is that they're still here, limiting what the Red Sox can do with the roster. The lesser of two evils is you shell out the money, and tell your GM no more stupid free agent deals.

Which brings us to Milton Bradley…

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