A day to give thanks, indeed. The Red Sox, who two Thanksgivings ago hooked Curt Schilling over dinner at the Schilling home in Arizona, yesterday formally reeled in not only ace Josh Beckett and third baseman Mike Lowell but a third Marlin, hard-throwing reliever Guillermo Mota, in a momentous deal expanded to seven players and announced by the club at approximately 10:30 last night.
Last night marked the expiration of a 72-hour window afforded the Sox and Marlins to pore over medical records and work out unresolved components of the deal. And, after debating Beckett's future health -- he's made nine visits to the disabled list in his four-plus big league seasons -- the club enhanced the deal by questioning Beckett's health and exploiting what is becoming a mass unloading of payroll, and consequently, talent in South Florida.
The Sox, according to a major league source with direct knowledge of the negotiations, threatened to call off the deal because of health concerns over Beckett unless the Marlins included Mota. And so, on the busiest shopping day of the year, the Sox can sit back today pleased with not only a full cart of goods but what appears to be at bargain prices.
In adding the 32-year-old Mota to the deal, the Sox had to sweeten the deal only with Harvey Garcia, a 21-year-old righthander who in 32 games with Single A Greenville last season went 3-5 with a 2.01 ERA in 44 2/3 innings. Beckett, the 2003 World Series MVP who blanked the Yankees for nine innings in a clinching Game 6, said last night he'd ''heard some rumors that" Mota could be included in the deal.
And so, the deal, after this major permutation, reads like this: Beckett (the new ace of the Sox staff), Lowell (the new starting third baseman, and a Gold Glove winner in 2005), and Mota (one of baseball's premier setup men in 2003 and '04) for Double A shortstop Hanley Ramírez, Double A righthander Anibal Sanchez, and Single A righthanders Jesus Delgado and Garcia.
Because of the late hour of the announcement, the Sox expected to release more information today, and expect to have the players available via conference call.
''I can't comment on it right now," Beckett said last night, when reached just after the deal was announced, but before he'd spoken to officials with either club. ''I need to hear it from the cow's mouth -- that's how we say it in Texas."
Indeed, the Sox now have an imposing righthanded Texan at the top of their rotation, and the last time that happened, it worked out fairly well. The 25-year-old Beckett, while unsigned, is arbitration eligible and under the Sox' contractual control for the next two seasons. He made $2.4 million in 2005 and is likely to double that in arbitration, though the club could sign him to a long-term deal, guaranteeing he'll anchor the rotation for years to come. However, they'd probably have to be convinced he's not a significant health risk.
Six of Beckett's nine DL visits have been for blisters on the middle finger on his pitching hand. And though it didn't necessitate a DL stint, shoulder tendinitis ailed him over the closing six weeks last season, when he felt unable to get completely loose until he was about 20 pitches into an inning. Beckett skipped his last start because of tendinitis and because Florida was out of playoff contention.
But, even with tendinitis, he'd maintained his velocity, working at up to 97 miles per hour late in the season, and going 3-0 with a 2.25 ERA over his final five starts. He shut out the Braves for seven innings in his last start of the season. Two MRIs and doctor visits this fall reaffirmed the tendinitis diagnosis.
Mota pitched only 67 innings last season, missing a month (April 24 to May 27) with inflammation in his elbow. Previous to that DL visit he'd gone 0-1 with two saves in two opportunities with a 1.86 ERA in 10 games. But, after coming off the DL, he was 2-1 with a 5.18 ERA in 46 games, with no saves in two chances. He struggled through a woeful September, allowing seven runs and 12 hits in 7 2/3 innings.
But, in 2003 and '04, he was arguably the game's best setup man. He led National League relievers in innings both seasons, pitching 201 2/3 innings total over those two seasons with a combined ERA of 2.50. He set up Eric Gagne with the Dodgers in 2003 and half of '04 before being dealt just before the deadline that summer to Florida along with Paul LoDuca and Juan Encarnacion for pitchers Brad Penny and Bill Murphy and first baseman Hee Seop Choi.
Mota, 22-24 with a 3.61 career ERA and .231 opponent batting average in 464 1/3 career innings, earned $2.6 million last season and, like Beckett, is unsigned and arbitration eligible. Mota, in 2005, held righthanders to one homer and a .262 average in 145 at-bats. Lefthanders hit four homers off him in 111 at-bats, hitting .243.