It's something of a debate in Red Sox fandom (i.e., the Nation) about whether the Hometown Teame should make a priority of signing Mark Teixeira. This (the presence of debate) has baffled me, as I've long considered one statement a no-brainer about this off-season: If Mark Teixeira is signable, the Red Sox should sign him.
Others obviously disagree. Take for example Evan Brunell, who last week gave his reasons for why the Red Sox should not sign Mark Teixeira. Evan runs a great Web site, but I find his arguments a bit underwhelming.
Evan first writes that "First [base] is not the issue." The Sox have no need to upgrade that position because Kevin Youkilis just got done having an MVP-worthy season there.
While signing Teixeira and trading Mike Lowell are possibilities, it would mean investing money in a position that we do not have foreseeable issues at for the next two years and perhaps beyond, if Lars Anderson develops into the hitter we all know he can be.
And that's really the bulk of any argument you'll hear against trading Teixeira. It boils down to two words: Lars Anderson.
Lest you think I'm intentionally minimizing a complex argument, take Evan's question to Peter Gammons from this great Q&A today:
Are the rumblings that the Red Sox refuse to be outbid for Mark Teixeira true? If so, what do they see in the future for Lars Anderson and what would they seek in a Mike Lowell trade? Why would they want Teixeira instead of patching other holes? What would they do if they signed Teixeira and couldn't trade Lowell?
Anderson is the first concern. We'll get to him in a moment.
The fact remains that while first is not the problem, the Red Sox' lineup IS a problem. Mike Lowell was injured and ineffective for half the season. So was David Ortiz. The Sox were punchless down the stretch. The bottom of the lineup was worthless. While the Sox have more pressing needs — and are certainly working to address those needs — locking up a hitter of Teixeira's caliber would solidify the lineup for years to come.
As for Anderson, he remain a prospect. An exciting prospect, but still just that. If Anderson becomes Teixeira, he will be considered a wild success, reaching perhaps his 1 percent level of probability. The Sox have the opportunity to acquire Teixeira himself, in his prime, right now. The fear that Tex will block Anderson in 2011 (which would likely be Anderson's first opportunity to start the season with Boston, assuming he has no setbacks at all) strikes me as incredibly unsound. It takes the concept of planning ahead to ludicrous heights.
And that assumes Anderson would even be blocked by Tex. In 2011, Ortiz will be 35. He will either be with another team or be playing during a picked-up option year. Evan addresses this point:
People have expressed concern that David Ortiz may be finished — much like Lowell was thought to be finished after 2005. Sorry, I'm not prepared to write off a hitter who has finished in the top five of MVP voting five straight years after one injury-marred season.
Leaving aside the irrelevance of Ortiz's MVP finishes as any kind of objective measure, the point is well taken that Ortiz is only one year removed from posting a 171 OPS+. That's simply an incredible number; he's only the 10th Red Sox hitter to post such a number, and seven of the other nine are in the Hall of Fame or will be. I think Ortiz will rebound, but I think those 171 days are over. Not only that, the Red Sox need to be planning as if those days will end sooner — Mo Vaughn style — rather than later.
Will Ortiz continue to rake 30 home runs a season by 2011? I sure hope so. But the chances are slim, and by then, Lars Anderson could be the perfect replacement. Even if he's not, the Sox would be covered by having Mark Teixeira hitting cleanup — and he'll be just 31 years old.
Evan sees this almost exactly opposite from me:
In today's day and age, flexibility and a propensity for young players are valued. What better position are the Sox in, then, with Lowell and David Ortiz free agents after the 2010 season and Lars Anderson chomping at the bit to hit the majors? By then, Will Middlebrooks may even be ready to ascend.
This strikes me as incredibly foolish planning. To hope that Lars Anderson and Will Middlebrooks can replace Mike Lowell and David Ortiz? Evan's statement seems to argue more strongly in favor of Teixeira — with Lowell and Ortiz both possibly free agents after 2010, the Sox would have much greater flexibility with Teixeira at first, Youkilis at third and the possibility of Anderson at DH.
Evan says the Red Sox should use the Teixeira money and focus on pitching. Yet this is one season the Sox can have their cake and eat it, too. If the Sox sign Teixeira for $20 million, they essentially replace Ramirez's salary. They'll lose $10 million of Varitek's salary, $8 million of Schilling's and just cleared $5 million of Crisp's. Some of that will go toward extending players like Jason Bay and Dustin Pedroia, but a good portion of that can be put toward pitching — plus some, given that the luxury tax doesn't hit until $160 million. Arguing the Sox need Tex's money for other needs is simply a misstatement of the Sox' financial position. They can afford to sign Teixeira, and they can afford to sign Lowe (or a cheaper short-term option, like Paul Byrd, if they so desire).
Finally, there's this comment:
The Sox would temporarily get younger, but perhaps at the expense of defense and certainly at the expense of losing a starting-caliber player (Lowell) with no guarantees we get a similar caliber player back.
Temporarily? The Red Sox would replace a 30-year-old with a 29-year-old at first, and a 35-year-old with a 30-year-old at third. They would replace a Gold Glover with an even better defensive player (and also a Gold Glover) at first, and a Gold Glover with an excellent defensive player who is arguably — by virtue of age and health — going to be a better defender at third. I fail utterly to see how replacing Youkilis and Lowell with Teixeira and Youkilis is "a sacrifice on defense," as Evan writes in his piece.
This is obviously a point on which intelligent baseball-loving people can disagree, but I feel strongly that the best thing the Red Sox can do for 2009 and beyond is sign Mark Teixeira. I simply haven't found any convincing arguments otherwise.