Red Sox are set at first
Mientkiewicz shipped to Mets; Millar starter
They're all gone, every one of them, the players who became members of the Red Sox at the trading deadline last July 31, the day Boston said goodbye to an icon, Nomar Garciaparra. They did their part to help the Sox win a World Series and moved on.
First it was the showman shortstop, Orlando Cabrera, signing as a free agent with the Angels after the Red Sox decided that another free agent, Edgar Renteria, was an upgrade over Cabrera, the principal acquisition the Sox made in the four-team deal in which they parted with Garciaparra. In losing Cabrera, who had come from the Expos, the Sox gained two picks in the June amateur draft, including a first-rounder, and will have six of the first 60 picks in the draft.
Next, it was the base-pilfering outfielder, Dave Roberts, who came to the Sox from the Dodgers in a deal separate from the Garciaparra blockbuster, but was shipped in late December to San Diego for two players the Sox envision in key roles off the bench, outfielder Jay Payton and middle infielder Ramon Vazquez.
And yesterday, it was the slick-fielding first baseman, Doug Mientkiewicz, who fair or not will probably be remembered less for what he brought to the table with the Sox than what he took away with him, the ball that he claimed as a personal souvenir after catching it for the final out in the World Series. Mientkiewicz was sent to the New York Mets, who needed a first baseman after losing out in the high-stakes bidding for Carlos Delgado. New York opted for the former Twin, who cost the Mets a slugging prospect from the lower minors, Ian Bladergroen. A lefthanded hitter who led all national junior colleges in home runs with 32 in 2003, Bladergroen would appear to have a high ceiling, assuming he recovers from major wrist surgery that cut his first pro season short last July.
Mientkiewicz is to be paid $3.75 million this year, with a club option of $4 million for 2006. If the Mets elect not to exercise that option, Sox general manager Theo Epstein said last night that the Sox will pay the $450,000 buyout.
As for the ball, Sox CEO Larry Lucchino said last night that the player and the Sox have worked out an arrangement in which Mientkiewicz will agree to loan the ball for immediate public exhibition, deferring for now the issue of the ball's ownership. A joint announcement by player and team is expected to be made today, he said.
"We have reached an arrangement with the Red Sox but we will wait for them to disclose the details," said Mientkiewicz's wife, Jodi, who said her husband was out fishing last night. "I will say I think the fans will be pleased with the outcome. It was a glorious season and we were thrilled to have been a part of it."
But for all the comings and goings, the player happiest about yesterday's deal is the player staying put, with Epstein's stamp of approval as the everyday first baseman in 2005: Kevin Millar. Finally he can stop worrying that it would be he, and not Mientkiewicz, who would be making out change-of-address cards.
"Of course I was worried, I didn't know what was going to happen," Millar said last night by telephone from his home in Beaumont, Texas. "It was kind of scary, especially because a lot of it was out of everybody's hands because of Delgado, and where he was going to go."
Millar called teammates Jason Varitek, Curt Schilling, and Doug Mirabelli. What do you hear? They said they didn't know anything, Millar said.
"I called Theo and told him I was going to drive to Fort Myers [Fla.] even if he traded me," Millar said.
The suspense, Millar said, was reminiscent of what he lived through two winters ago, when he helplessly awaited the outcome of an international skirmish between the Red Sox and the Chunichi Dragons, the Japanese team that thought it had a deal with Millar, until the Sox intervened with a waiver claim.
"I didn't want to go anywhere else," he said last night. "I feel like I've been with the Red Sox for the last 10 years, even though it's only been two. I feel like a part of the city and part of the organization."
Epstein, as he has said all along, mentioned again last night that both players deserved to play regularly.
"Both guys are everyday, winning first basemen in my mind," Epstein said in a conference call. "I wish you could combine them. But in the end, I think to be fair to both guys it was the right thing to do to put them in a position where they could get a chance to play every day."
He traded Mientkiewicz in part, he said, because he brought back the best return in a deal. The Sox like Bladergroen (.342, 13 HRs, 74 RBIs in just 269 ABs at Single A Capital City), Epstein said, because of his bat and because they were short on first-base prospects. "We have some guys who know him pretty well," Epstein said, "and he also has good makeup, a leader."
But it's clear the Sox opted for Millar because he gives the team another productive righthanded bat to go with the thunder stick of Manny Ramirez, in a lineup that has David Ortiz and Trot Nixon to generate lefthanded pop, and Varitek to do some bashing from both sides of the plate. Millar hit .319 after the All-Star break last season, second to Varitek's .323, and hit 13 of his 18 homers and drove in 49 of his 74 runs after the break.
"We're very happy to have Kevin back," Epstein said. "He brings a lot to our lineup."
Short of a deal for buried reliever Byung Hyun Kim, the Sox roster is pretty well set going into spring. Epstein said Kevin Youkilis has been told he will be playing a lot of first base in camp and must play "more than an adequate" first base if he expects to stick with the big club. David McCarty also was re-signed to a minor league deal (with a big-league invitation) as a candidate to be a late-inning defensive replacement.
Despite the loss of one of his closest friends on the club, Gabe Kapler, who signed to play in Japan, and the departures of Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe as well as the trading-deadline pickups, Millar points to the core of the club that is back.
"We've managed to keep the nucleus of this team together, which is hard to do in this day and age," he said. "We're going to have a healthy Trot Nixon, who's going to be hungry. Johnny Damon is in his last year, Billy Mueller is healthy, [Mark] Bellhorn is back with the confidence he had last year, Manny [Ramirez] and David [Ortiz], Jason [Varitek], and [Curt] Schilling . . . we have almost everybody back but the shortstop. And wait till you see Edgar Renteria.
"I think we're going to be a great, great team with a chance to do something special. I'm just glad I'm still a part of it."
As for having none of the players that became part of the Sox when Garciaparra was subtracted, Epstein said: "We tried to do something that made sense for us in the short term in 2004, and also makes sense for the long term, and I think that's what we did."