Don't Do It, Theo

Harris FrommerContributor IDecember 17, 2008

Temptation can come in many forms. To the married man, it’s the stunning blonde sitting alone in the corner of the bar. To a car thief, it’s the late model BMW idling unattended in front of a convenience store. To the female shopaholic, it’s that Gucci handbag on sale at half price. To Theo Epstein, GM of the Boston Red Sox, it’s the slugging first baseman available this Christmas for a cool $150 million.

Mark Teixeira is clearly the marquee position player up for grabs in this winter’s free agent bazaar. In fact, he’s the best hitter available since the winter of 2000-01, when Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez were offering their services to the highest bidder.
A switch-hitter with both power and patience, Teixeira’s line of .290/.378/.541 since he broke into the major leagues in 2003 is the best by a first baseman not named Albert Pujols. Oh, he’s also young (only 28 on Opening Day), an excellent fielder (two Gold Gloves) and durable (he’s averaged over 150 games per season).

So, with Teixeira’s sparkling resume and the mounds of cash Boston seemingly has to spend this winter, is there any reason why Epstein should not make the two-time Silver Slugger his primary offseason objective?

Yes, there’s actually one huge reason -- Teixeira can’t pitch.

Despite Boston’s burgeoning dynasty, which includes two world championships and five postseason appearances since 2003, the organization’s post-2010 pitching outlook outside of emerging ace Jon Lester isn’t as bright as one might think. Workhorse Josh Beckett, a free agent after 2010, could follow the likes of Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and others, by shunning megabuck overtures and return to his native Texas; Daisuke Matsuzaka, his 18-3 record last season notwithstanding, consistently racks up high pitch counts due to poor command and failed to make it into the sixth inning in almost half his starts; Tim Wakefield is 42; Clay Buchholz has regressed significantly and is now being dangled as trade bait; and recent free agent signee Junichi Tazawa has never thrown a pitch in North America.
Put simply, the acquisition of a proven, frontline starter would bolster the Red Sox’ rotation at a crucial time and all but ensure the team’s ability to contend well into the next decade.

Fortunately, ‘tis the season for Epstein & Co. In C.C. Sabathia, Derek Lowe and A.J. Burnett, Boston has three studs to choose from this winter. Sabathia is obviously the main attraction. As his work down the stretch with the Brewers exhibited, he’s a money pitcher, a guy who’s capable of putting a team on his back and changing the entire dynamic of a pennant race all by himself.
Though it’s no secret that the big lefty desires to pitch close to his California home, the Red Sox could throw a wrench into his plans if they extend an offer which approaches the 6-year/$140 million proposal already put out by the Yankees. If nothing else, a decision by Boston to enter the Sabathia sweepstakes would drive up the price for the Bronx Bombers and possibly prevent them from making other major acquisitions this winter.

Lowe is intriguing for several reasons. First, he’s already had success pitching in the Beantown pressure cooker, as evidenced by his excellent 52-27 record as a starter from 2002-04 and the stingy 3.09 ERA he posted in 61 postseason innings with the Red Sox. Second, he’s durable. Since becoming a full-time starter in 2002, Lowe has never missed a turn and averaged nearly 211 innings a season.

Burnett has always been something of an enigma – he has first-rate stuff but only appears to stay healthy in the walk year of his contract. Still, given his electric arm and the success he’s enjoyed against the arch-rival Yankees (2.43 ERA in almost 80 career innings), he’d provide manager Terry Francona with the perfect right-handed foil to Lester.

The Red Sox likely don’t have enough money to sign both Teixeira and a pitcher from the Sabathia/Lowe/Burnett triumvirate; however, they’d have far less difficulty making do without Teixeira’s lumber. In Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz, Jason Bay and J.D. Drew, Boston has the strongest lineup in the A.L. East. And let’s not forget that Ortiz will have an entire winter to rest and rehabilitate the ailing wrist which caused him to suffer through a disappointing 2008. Nor should we neglect to mention third baseman Mike Lowell, who, after undergoing hip surgery this offseason, could very well return to his 120 RBI form from 2007.

There’s yet another player we feel compelled to bring up. That’s Boston’s first baseman of the future, Lars Anderson. Anderson, 21, breezed through High A and Double A in 2008 at a .317/.417/.517 clip and displayed a good eye as well as the ability to hit with power to all fields. While no prospect is ever a sure thing (see Burroughs, Sean), Anderson is as close as it gets.
The left-handed slugger should be ready for prime time no later than 2010 and would offer the club at least replacement level production at the big league minimum of $400,000.
This is in contrast to Teixeira, who would offer mouth watering numbers but at an eye popping cost.
So, with the Red Sox offense already a juggernaut and more help on the way, Teixeira would represent an unnecessary luxury whose exorbitant cost could prohibit the organization from addressing other areas of need. And in the bare knuckles world of the A.L. East such a serious miscalculation could have dire consequences, including the end of a golden era in Boston.
Don’t do it, Theo.