Boston's Future Is as Bright as Its Recent Past - Part One
With two World Series titles in the past four years and one of the best farm systems in the game, the Boston Red Sox are now the model big-market franchise. Sure, the Sox have built-in competitive advantages and possess the second-highest payroll in baseball, but the organization, for the most part, has used its resources wisely. The same cannot be said of several other franchises, be it small or large markets.
The success starts at the top. The ownership group, headed by John Henry, Chairman Tom Werner, and CEO/President Larry Lucchino, deserves credit for buying the team, investing in it, and assembling an outstanding management team. Outside of George Steinbrenner and Carl Pohlad, I believe Henry, Werner, Lucchino, et al are the only owners who have overseen a pair of World Series championships.
Executive VP/General Manager Theo Epstein, who was hired in November 2002, is one of only three GMs who have won multiple World Series titles (the others being Pat Gillick and Brian Cashman). Not bad for anyone, much less someone who hasn't turned 34 yet.
Manager Terry Francona, who was hired in December 2003, has skippered two championships in four seasons. He is signed through 2008 and will earn $1.75M next year. Francona also earns bonuses for making playoffs and winning the LDS, LCS, and World Series. Look for Tito to get a multi-year extension and a raise that will send his average annual salary toward $2.5M.
Assistant GM Jed Hoyer and VP/Player Personnel Ben Cherington, both of whom served as co-GM during Epstein's absence from October 2005 through January 2006, coupled with Director of Player Development Mike Hazen and Scouting Director Jason McLeod, add to the strength of Boston's front office. Let's also not forget the contributions of Senior Baseball Operations Adviser Bill James, who was hired by Henry five years ago. The depth of talent in the front office is virtually unmatched in MLB.
The management team has a number of important decisions to make this fall. First and foremost is whether it wants to make a run at Alex Rodriguez, who opted out of his 10-year, $252 million contract on Sunday night. Boston, the two Los Angeles franchises, San Francisco, and perhaps Detroit, Seattle, and one or both of the Chicago clubs would appear to have the most resources and interest in signing the soon-to-be three-time AL MVP.
If the Yankees are true to their word and don't pursue A-Rod, then one has to think that Mike Lowell will receive their money and affection. The latter apparently is looking for a 4/$56M deal. Put me in charge and I would not offer anything remotely close to that asking price. The fans can chant "MVP" all they want, but he is not worth that kind of money. He will turn 34 before the season starts and is a risky proposition beyond two years.
Teams should be aware that Lowell was a product of Fenway Park in 2007 (.373/.418/.575 at home, .276/.339/.428 away). They should also all but ignore his 120 RBI. Those runs served Boston well in 2007 but are not necessarily repeatable in 2008 and beyond, especially for a club that doesn't have as strong of a lineup as the Sox.
Lowell may be a good guy, unselfish, and clutch – you know, the types of things we hear about *after* a player performs well or a team wins it all. But wasn't he all those things when Florida dumped his $9 million annual salary on Boston in the Josh Beckett-Hanley Ramirez trade? Wasn't Lowell all that when the Red Sox couldn't find any takers last winter? I know he had an outstanding season but that's now in the past. Success doesn't come by looking in the rear-view mirror; it comes to those who focus on the future rather than the past.
If the Red Sox don't want to wait out what will likely be an auction for A-Rod's services, then it can negotiate with Lowell now. However, I don't see it as an "either or" decision. Kevin Youkilis, while not the equal of Lowell defensively or as athletic as Rodriguez, could man the hot corner adequately for a year or two. David Ortiz could get more time at first base, if necessary, while waiting for Lars Anderson, who just turned 20, to develop into a major leaguer. Jed Lowrie could be a viable option as well. A second baseman at Stanford and a shortstop throughout his professional career, the 23-year-old has the hands and arm strength to make the move to third base. He would be a downgrade offensively but far from a liability.
As a result of the above, I would go after Rodriguez in a big way. Nobody knows what it will take at this point. Instead, we only know that the highest bidder will win out. Clubs are going to want to offer no more than six years and Scott Boras is going to hold out for ten. The compromise may be eight but if it's six or ten, it will – rest assured – be ten. If it works, great. If it doesn't, that's OK, too. The Red Sox are loaded and can deploy the money elsewhere if things don't work out with A-Rod.
Aside from Rodriguez and Lowell, Boston needs to make a decision with respect to Curt Schilling. Now 41, the veteran righthander, whose $13M 2007 option vested when the club won the World Championship in 2004, is free to negotiate with any team. Both sides have enough interest in each other that a deal could be reached to bring back Schilling for one more season with perhaps a mutual option for 2009. Andy Pettitte would be a high-end comp at $16M while Greg Maddux would be a low-end comp at $10M. The latter's options could serve as a model for negotiations between the Red Sox and Schilling. Maddux has a $6M player option that increased to $8.75M due to the fact that he exceeded 185 IP last season and San Diego has a $11M club option.
The Red Sox can exercise its option on Tim Wakefield each year at $4M. At worst, bringing back Wakefield gives the Red Sox insurance in case Schilling breaks down and Jon Lester or Clay Buchholz don't pan out as expected. As a sixth starter, Wake would likely get 8-12 starts and could work out of the bullpen as a long reliever when the rotation is healthy.
Be sure to return tomorrow for Part Two when we discuss Boston's lineup, bench, starting rotation, and bullpen in more depth.