Okay Theo, now what?
I have been an unabashed fan and supporter of the Red Sox General Manager since his assumption of the reigns of the Red Sox organization. I have not always agreed with the decisions he has made, but I have seldom taken him to task for the manner in which he has discharged his responsibilities.
The Texas Rangers have called off their trade with the Red Sox that would have sent third baseman Mike Lowell to Arlington (along with nine million of Red Sox Nation hard-earned cash) in exchange for prospect Max Ramirez (a slugging catcher of marginal defensive capabilities). The reason? Lowell is damaged goods.
Lowell injured his right thumb while taking batting practice during the last weekend of the ‘09 season. In the aftermath of the team’s unceremonious ouster from the post-season, he neglected to have the injury addressed. Theo & Company knew this, yet rather than have the injury assessed BEFORE trying to deal him, they moved forward with their efforts to unload the selfless third baseman. And now they can’t.
So, where do they go from here? This embarrassment can now be termed “L’affair du Lowell."
Red Sox Nation knows the story. After the 2007 season, Lowell signed a contract for fewer years and less money than he was offered elsewhere (Philadelphia) because he liked playing here. He liked the city. He liked the organization. He liked his teammates. He liked playing for Red Sox Nation.
He has been an excellent player during his time in Boston. He helped bring the team the second of its two World Series championships over a four-year period. After an exceptional ‘07 campaign (when he hit .324, with 21 HR and 120 RBI), the world was his oyster. He could have left for Philadelphia yet he stayed in Boston. In 2008, he played hard and injured his hip. Since that time, his production has been somewhat diminished and, in response, the Red Sox front office has treated him like damaged goods.
Theo & Company should be ashamed. While I am aware their responsibility is to field a winning team, in my opinion there was no reason Lowell could not have been a part of another championship squad in Boston. But after what has transpired during the last few weeks, it nows seem to be impractical—if not impossible—to bring him back to the ballclub.
I know baseball is a business. I am not so naive to believe that the decision on Lowell’s future should be predicated on “his feelings”… but, the fact of the matter is he made it clear his feelings were hurt after last season’s aborted effort to exile him. You have to believe that he is angry about the events of the last couple of weeks; therefore, it would appear foolish to bring him back into the locker room.
Not that I believe Lowell would cause problems. He appears to be too classy a guy to allow the trade talks to effect his approach to the game, but it seems the fallout of the team's efforts would have to have a negative effect on his performance. His presence would have an adverse impact in the locker room, even if all parties tried to avoid it.
First, he would be a daily reminder to his teammates that the front office tried to trade him and that there is NO such thing as loyalty on Yawkey Way, and you had better believe THAT lesson will not be lost on guys like Jonathan Papelbon as free agency approaches.
And secondly, the carniverous Boston media would constantly question him about the issue...and it is hard to believe that an incessant inquisition wouldn't wear him down over the course of a long season.
Why did any of this have to happen?
Certainly, Lowell’s hurt feelings aside, you understand why the front office tried to do something LAST season due to the fact he had suffered a severe injury to his hip. Yet, in spite of the invasive surgical procedure he endured, Lowell battled through the pain and put together a not-too-shabby ‘09 season (.290, 17 HR, 75 RBI).
But why did the front office determine it needed to try to deal him again this winter, especially when it knows the world would discover they are offering to pay nine million dollars of his salary? Frankly, Lowell must be mortified by the lengths to which Theo & Company have gone to try to unload him.
The third baseman has hit .295, with 75 HR and 348 RBI, during his tenure in Boston (for an average of 19 HR and 87 RBI annually). While he hit only .274 during his injury-shortened ‘08 season, he was able to rebound nicely last year. And with a full year of post-surgical recovery and rehabilitation under his belt, it is likely next season will be even better.
Beyond his on-field performance there are the other considerations: he is a class act in the community, a leader in the clubhouse, and a positive force with the hispanic players on the roster.
So, again, the question remains: Why? Are the Red Sox that enamored with Adrian Beltre?
For all the good they did in acquiring Mike Cameron and John Lackey, Theo & Co have (in my opinion) done irreparable harm at third base… unless, they plan to open the coffers for Beltre and his agent, Scott Boras. Argh.
The front office knows it cannot go into the season relying on Jed Lowrie at third base because of his health and the fact he won’t provide enough in the way of production (HR & RBI) as a corner-infielder (NOTE: teams that have championship aspirations MUST get significant production from their corner infielders, something Lowrie cannot provide).
Which brings us to Casey Kotchman, who is a pretty good defensive first baseman but has never hit more than twelve home runs. Is THAT preferable to bringing Lowell back, especially when you would have to pay $9 million of his salary?
And please spare me the discussion about the Sox new emphasis on defense. The assertion seems specious in the wake of the team’s decision to forego resigning defensive whiz Alex Gonzalez while spending big bucks and forfeiting a pair of draft picks to sign marginal defender Marco Scutaro.
I am left to wonder whether a definitive plan really exists.
The front office has now painted the organization into a corner. Assuming I am correct that the Sox cannot bring Lowell back due to the impact of its two aborted efforts to exile him, what do they do now?
The Sox don’t have an in-house answer in Kotchman or Lowrie.
Free agency isn’t the answer. The only potential solutions are Beltre and Mark DeRosa. Boras wants too much money for too many years for Beltre. And he is stubborn and is likely to wait awhile before admitting he has to adjust his asking price. The Sox need resolution soon and cannot afford to wait until he figures it out. And DeRosa, like Beltre, is looking for too much money for too many years.
The options are few and not especially desirable. The other teams around MLB know it so the Sox are dealing from a position of weakness. Thus the team may have to face the prospect of over-paying for Adrian Gonzalez or Miguel Cabrera… although the economy in Michigan is so horrific they could luck out, as the Tigers may eventually decide to trade Cabrera for a bag of balls—just to get out from under his contract.
And, again, the question needs to be asked and answered: was all of this really necessary?