A Mark In His Favor

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.

13 comments… add one

  • He’s honestly arguing that Will Middlebrooks, who OPS’ed .666 in 209 AB at A- this year, could help replace Lowell/Ortiz? AHAHAHA!
    Great points Paul, I agree all around. Locking up our lineup for 8+ years is a fantastic move, both for the long-term and the immediate future.

    Atheose December 1, 2008, 7:42 pm
  • Great arguments. I couldn’t agree more, and I’m as excited as anyone by the (statistically chancy, years away) ascendance of a Lars Anderson.

    momüs December 1, 2008, 9:32 pm
  • Paul, this is precisely why I don’t read Evan’s site. You said it yourself, its a great looking site, but the content is continually lacking. Every few months I go back and read something, but its doesn’t seem to improve.
    I’m excited by Anderson too, but Evan’s argument boils down to lets not draft anyone in 2015 because they could block someone we draft in 2020. I think the argument can be made that the Sox should pass on Teixeira, but someone else is going to have to make that argument.

    mattymatty December 2, 2008, 3:18 pm
  • I apologize if that seems mean. It wasn’t my intent to be unkind.

    mattymatty December 2, 2008, 3:19 pm
  • I think that the pundits are overlooking the role of versatility and insurance as they think about Lowell, Ortiz, and Youk. If you sign Tex, then Youk can play at 3B (if Lowell isn’t ready) or in LF/RF (if Lowell is good to go).
    If Youk moves to LF, you can sit either Bay or Ellsbury (with Bay in CF). If Youk moves to RF, you can sit Ellsbury, with Drew in CF.
    Or, if Ortiz is hurting and Lowell’s good, then the Sox can rotate Lowell, Youk, and/or Tex through the DH.
    In any event, signing Tex gives the Sox substantial insurance at the following positions:
    1. 3B, if Lowell’s still hurt.
    2. DH, if Papi goes down again.
    3. CF, if Ellsbury doesn’t pan out.
    4. RF, if Drew gets hurt.
    5. LF, if Bay doesn’t pan out.
    In short, thanks to Youk’s extreme versatility, and Bay’s/Drew’s ability to shift to CF, the Sox’s signing of Tex would not merely bring a fantastic young bat to the team, but could also hedge against five completely plausible and substantial 2009 risks. (Four of which haunted the Sox through 2007 or 2008.)

    Adam December 3, 2008, 11:09 am
  • Ouch, that hurt. Matty, I recommend you try giving it more than just one chance. Honestly, I am befuddled why you think the content is lacking. You’re the first to say something like that. Everyone else loves the structure, the tone, the opinion/analysis…

    Evan Brunell December 3, 2008, 11:28 am
  • “The fact remains that while first is not the problem, the Red Sox’ lineup IS a problem.”
    I don’t see how this is backed up. According to the 2009 Bill James Handbook, the Red Sox were 2nd in the AL in batting, second only to Texas in BA and OBP, and 3rd in SLG. They were also second in the AL in steals and doubles. Obviously, it would be nice to add power to the lineup, even with Ortiz likely better next year than last. We were 6th in the AL in home runs (though Fenway takes some away), and we weren’t great at hitting triples, either. Still, calling the lineup a problem is a bit of a stretch.

    Alfonzo December 3, 2008, 11:56 am
  • Adam, I think you are right – the Sox do need to hedge against possible offensive declines, but why pay a 150M premium? I have a tough time believing that John Henry is going to take on a liability that is about 10% of the value of his company for insurance purposes. A T-Rex signing should be the starting point to another huge move like trading Youkilis or Bay.

    El Guapo's Ghost December 3, 2008, 1:13 pm
  • A T-Rex signing should be the starting point to another huge move like trading Youkilis or Bay.
    Or Ortiz.
    Just Sayin.

    Brad December 3, 2008, 1:31 pm
  • “Adam, I think you are right – the Sox do need to hedge against possible offensive declines, but why pay a 150M premium?”
    Texeira isn’t the insurance policy. He’s signed on his own merits. Youk, Lowell, or Bay — i.e., the player that could be moved but that shouldn’t — is the insurance policy.

    Adam December 3, 2008, 1:43 pm
  • Even if Youk or Bay is considered insurance, $5-7.5M is still too much. Just because the Sox can afford to pay a backup that kind of money doesn’t make it prudent.
    Evaluating a T-Rex signing based on his own production regardless of who he would be replacing would be not be wise. The Sox should be paying for the incremental production-wins-revenue over whomever he would be replacing though the life of the deal. And that revenue figure should be the maximum offer.

    El Guapo's Ghost December 3, 2008, 5:46 pm
  • Still, calling the lineup a problem is a bit of a stretch.
    It’s a matter of degree, certainly. This is a team that came within two runs of the World Series. As it was onstructed, there were few things — if any — other teams would consider a problem. But offense (and an injury to Josh Beckett) above all was the Sox’ main problem in their failure to reach the World Series.
    The Sox finished with the fourth-best pitching staff in the American League by ERA last year, with their principal pitchers (three starters and the closer) at ages 24, 27, 28 and 27, respectively, with key performances in the second half by a 23-year-old. Meanwhile, the Sox did finish with the second-best lineup by runs per game, but they did so with six Opening Day slots over the age of 30. Internally, the Red Sox can or have replaced some of that: Bay over Ramirez, Lowrie over Lugo. But there’s still Drew, Ortiz, Lowell, possibly Varitek and now Youkilis at or over 30.
    Here are some stats that I find not necessarily alarming, but at least cause for some concern heading into next season:
    - The Red Sox’ sOPS+ dipped from 118 in the first half to 111 in the second half.
    - The Sox were first in the league in sOPS+ from the second, third and sixth spots (Pedroia, Ortiz/Drew and Youkilis/Drew) and top three from the fourth (Ramirez/Youkilis), fifth (Lowell/Bay/Youkilis) and seventh (Varitek/Lowrie) spots. That left a gaping hole at 8-9-1, where the Sox were seventh, seventh and 13th respectively, and with Lowrie’s injury, the seventh spot was a disgrace the last part of the season, as well. That’s four spots out of nine by the playoffs that were ineffective, and Ortiz wasn’t setting the world on fire either. The benefits of a Teixeira there — bolstering the middle of the lineup and essentially replacing Mark Kotsay in the field — last season are clear. With health still a general concern as the lineup ages, never mind the real injuries to Lowell and Ortiz (and even Lowrie), it seems clear Teixeira solves a very real concern/problem for the Red Sox: an aging, increasingly injury-prone lineup that requires redundancy to protect it.
    - Finally, the Red Sox in playing their most important games of the regular season (the 19 against the Rays) outscored Tampa, 87-67, yet lost the season series, 10-8. That’s the hallmark of an inconsistent offense that blows out a team in a lot of games but struggles to score otherwise. In September, the Red Sox went 2-4 against Tampa, scoring fewer than four runs per game. Throw out a 13-5 blowout of Scott Kazmir, and the Sox averaged just 2.6 RPG in the remaining five, with just one of the four losses by more than two runs. In the ALCS, the Sox scored more than four runs just twice and averaged exactly 4 runs per game — 1.5 less than in the regular season. The Sox lost two games by two runs or less.
    Granted, Tampa had a great pitching staff, but how much would Teixeira have helped in the Sox’ FIVE one- or two-run losses to the Rays after Sept. 1? A win in any of those games likely would have placed the Sox in the World Series (thanks to the tiebreaker/home-field advantage gained by just one more regular-season win over Tampa). The pitchers by and large were not the problem there. The bats were.
    In a division like the AL East, general principles like the Ghost is arguing — tying a per-win value to the difference between the WARPs of Teixeira and Lowell, for example — simply fail. What is the value of another World Series win to the Red Sox? Certainly more than simply the one win or two that Teixeira on paper would give the team. In 2008, one win meant all the difference, and the Red Sox’ offense came up short multiple times, particularly down the stretch (when Teixeira is historically at his best, by the way). I don’t want to see that happen again, and I’m sure the Sox don’t either.

    Paul SF December 4, 2008, 2:16 am
  • Adam, just putting this out there, but Bay cannot play center. He may be a defensive upgrade over Manny, but he’s still a below average fielder in LEFT field. Bay should not play center (and hasn’t since 2005). For the record, he’s only played 1 game at right.
    Drew has played center before, but over the past three seasons has played a grand total of 5 games in center (he played 30 in center in 2005). Frankly, given the fact that he’s injury prone, I highly doubt you’ll ever see him playing center for an extended period of time. And, to the best of my knowledge, Youkilis has played something like 18 games in left and 2 in right. Somehow, I don’t see him being moved to the outfield. He’s a versatile player, but not THAT versatile.
    Teixeira brings some insurance, but not for Ellsbury in center and, unless you think Youkilis will be able to play left or right (which I don’t), probably not for Bay or Drew either. And that’s a pretty expensive insurance policy.

    Italeri Bologna December 4, 2008, 3:27 pm

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