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Sox proceeding with caution

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  November 21, 2008 03:36 PM

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Amid speculation that the Red Sox are speaking regularly with the agent for A.J. Burnett in an attempt to land the pitcher, a baseball source said today that the Red Sox are still in the relatively early stages in negotiations with all free agents and that the team ultimately may be unwilling to pay the ultimate price for the pitcher.

One of the more highly regarded pitchers available on this year's market, Burnett will turn 32 in January after going 18-10 with a 4.07 ERA with the Toronto Blue Jays this year. Nonetheless, the pitcher comes with significant questions about his health and durability -- he has made as many as 30 starts only twice during a career that began in 1999 -- and owned a relatively mediocre career record of just 69-66 before this year.

The Red Sox are believed to have reviewed medical records on Burnett, but that is not unusual for any free agent at this stage of the process. A firsthand examination of the player typically would take place much later in negotiations.

According to the same baseball source, the Sox are weighing all options this offseason given the uncertainty of the US economy and the potentially preposterous costs for talent. Like many teams, the Red Sox would jump at the chance to sign Burnett, but indications are that the club would refrain from doing so if and when the price escalates. Earlier this offseason, one major league executive placed the potential cost for Burnett in the range of $16 million-$18 million annually, a price the Sox almost certainly would be unwilling to pay given their history of negotiations, particularly with pitchers.

If and when the price were to escalate on first baseman Mark Teixeira -- and that price will similarly soar -- it is unclear to what lengths the Sox would draw a line. The 28-year-old Teixeira is a positional player who seems a far safer bet than someone like Burnett, but he also could require a longer and larger financial commitment.

Meanwhile, the Sox continue to wait for Japanese righthander Junichi Tazawa to fulfill his obligation with an Industrial League team in Japan before making his clear his intention to play in the United States. The Sox have been scouting Tazawa for more than a year, but a club official cautioned against unrealistic expectations for a 22-year-old who likely needs time in the minor leagues and who might be a comparable talent to someone like former Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners righthander Shigetoshi Hasegawa.

According to the same source, Tazawa throws in the low 90s -- not in the 97-mile per hour range, as some have reported -- and possesses a good breaking ball to go along with a changeup. His decision to leave Japan could result in unusually intense media coverage given this realities of this age and the Sox' acquisition of Daisuke Matsuzaka two years ago, but any other comparisons between the pitchers should probably stop there.

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