Sox offseason, part one: Mark Teixeira

Like a chainsaw bayonet, Mark Teixeira is a major offensive upgrade

The offseason is upon us - Oakland, Colorado, Washington, and Florida certainly have gotten started on things and Atlanta and San Diego may be next - and so now it is time for us to lay out our road map for what we feel the Red Sox should do to put together a competitive team in 2009. 

Make no mistake about this: while the 2007 and 2008 teams were both great, the Sox cannot afford to rest on their laurels here unless they wish to designate '09 as a "retooling" year. The Rays will likely improve without even making any significant moves just by swapping Edwin Jackson out for David Price in their rotation. The Yankees sound like they're itching to spend some money. And the Jays can't really be counted out. So the Red Sox need to be active here. 

Reports from the Globe and others are that they're going to look to make an offer to free agent slugger Mark Teixeira. The case for acquiring him in a vacuum makes itself. Teixeira is a great hitter in the prime of his career. He's put up better numbers since leaving the hitter's paradise in Texas and moving on to Atlanta and Los Angeles. Plus he plays great defense at first base.

But of course, these things can't be evaluated in a vacuum. The Red Sox have a first baseman, Kevin Youkilis. Youkilis can play third, but they have a third baseman also. But the presence of Lowell shouldn't preclude a Teixeira run. Allow me to present two baseball players. Two third basemen, in fact. They've both played approximately the same number of games. Let's compare:

Player A: .285/.357/.482
Player B: .273/.330/.453

Player A looks pretty solid - a useful guy with the bat and, when combined with very good defense at third base, he becomes very valuable to a first-division club. Player B is not exactly what you might call bad per se, just a lot closer to average. He's not going to kill your team's chances or anything, but if you're paying him, say, $24 million over the next two years, it's not a desirable situation.

Player A and Player B are ... wait for it ... both Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell. Player A is first-half Mike Lowell, the guy who makes All-Star teams and gets picked in the middle round of fantasy drafts. But for whatever reason, neither the Red Sox nor the Marlins have been able to figure out how to keep his performance from deteriorating to a degree in the second half. Perhaps he could use more rest in the first half, or perhaps there's something else at play.

But wait! You haven't met Player C yet:

Player C: .350/.407/.483

Hey, this guy's pretty good! This is Mike Lowell yet again: Mike Lowell's second half in 2007. In Lowell's contract year, he posted those numbers thanks to a crazy stroke of good fortune, to the tune of a .383 BABIP (usually that figure normalizes to roughly .300) - a run of luck which continued into the World Series. That's not really sustainable. Take that run of good fortune out of Lowell B's numbers above, and his second-half track record plunges towards Julio Lugo territory.

I was not blogging about the Red Sox in 2007, but if I was, I would most likely have advocated for the team to thank Lowell for the memories and look to other options to fill the void at third or first base for the reasons stated above: he seems like a great guy with debonairish good looks, and for the first three and a half months of the season he's absolutely someone you want on your team. The alternatives at the time were not spectacular, and that likely was a big factor for the Red Sox in their decision-making process. The deal at the time was defensible, but not ideal: while they couldn't predict something like Lowell's hip injury, Lowell was heading into his middle thirties and was a good bet to decline over the life of his next contract; the Red Sox are a statistically savvy team and were probably aware of the underlying figures behind his great 2007. He suffered through an injury-plagued 2008, and when he was healthy he reverted to something closer to his career norm. But if he cannot come back stronger from the thumb and hip injuries as he enters his age 35 season, then there's a real concern. My biggest concern is his defense - if his mobility is limited by the hip injury and his defense slips as a result, he loses a lot of value.

I am not saying the Red Sox should prioritize trading Mike Lowell at all costs. I am simply saying that if they can get Teixeira, they should, and they shouldn't let the presence of Lowell stop them. As far as trade partners go, Cleveland, the Dodgers, the White Sox, possibly Milwaukee, and maybe even Philadelphia all come to mind. But this raises another set of questions... which we'll address in the future.


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