It all started not long after the final out of the World Series, the thousands left in the Coors Field crowd chanting for the return of third baseman Mike Lowell: "Bring back Lowell! Bring back Lowell!" Now, three weeks after that moment, Lowell has agreed in principle to return to the Red Sox for three more years, according to a major league source.
Few were quiet about their desire to re-sign the third baseman. Jason Varitek rode the duck boats in the World Series victory parade with a sign that made his feelings plain: "Re-sign Lowell." Manny Ramírez yelled about it to fans during the rolling rally. And many fans signed petitions designed to let the team brass know that they wanted nothing more than to see Lowell - coming off his World Series MVP performance - installed at third base for the next few years.
They'll get three, one less than the number of years Lowell preferred. But the Red Sox were unwilling to move off the three years they initially offered, and were left to wait to see whether Lowell would take their offer, which came in at $37.5 million. His last contract had him at $9 million each of the two years he spent with the Red Sox, a contract he originally signed with the Marlins.
The two sides had a few language issues to work out last night, but the contract was essentially done, the source said. Lowell was given a deadline of yesterday to make up his mind on the contract. There were no extraordinary clauses inserted into the contract, nothing like the weight stipulations in Curt Schilling's deal, but the money did improve slightly from the first version of the contract that he was offered.
The Phillies reportedly were willing to give Lowell a fourth year in a deal worth $50 million, but that wasn't enough to lure him away from Boston.
Before the contract was agreed to yesterday morning, Sox principal owner John Henry spoke with Lowell Sunday, though the conversation was not the deciding factor in Lowell's decision to return.
"How cool is that?" Schilling wrote on his blog yesterday. "Leaving years and dollars on the table to come back here for three more years, good stuff. Pretty nice to think you are fans in a town that is now a desired destination for athletes across the major sports. Come a long way for sure.
"Congrats to Mike and I've already spoken with a few guys on the team and suffice to say we're all ectstatic [sic]."
One of the issues the Red Sox contemplated as they worked through the negotiations was Lowell's age. Not long after Lowell arrives in Fort Myers, Fla., for spring training, he will turn 34, which means the new contract will run until he is 36, a concern for any team.
Lowell has maintained he is comfortable in Boston and preferred to return, but he did want to test the free agent market to see if he could find a suitable four-year deal, in what likely will be the final major contract of his career.
Though Lowell was essentially a throw-in to the Josh Beckett deal before the 2006 season, he finished off his second year in Boston by hitting .400 (6 for 15) during the four-game sweep of the Rockies in the World Series (with four RBIs and six runs). That concluded a year in which Lowell was the most consistent player on the team all season, and one in which he finished fifth in the American League MVP voting, which was announced yesterday. Lowell garnered 126 points, with votes as high as third place, coming in one spot behind David Ortiz in the voting.
After seven years with his hometown Marlins, with whom he landed after originally being drafted by the Yankees, Lowell turned in a career year this past season, hitting over .300 for the first time. He batted .324, with 120 RBIs, 21 home runs, and 37 doubles.
With Schilling and Lowell, the Sox will have sewn up both of their big-name free agents for next season. The remainder of the offseason plan will include a potential trade of Coco Crisp to make way for center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, and filling in a few more complementary players, including a backup catcher and a fourth outfielder if Crisp does not stay, as well as finalizing some pieces in the bullpen.
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.