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Some housecleaning before 2009

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  December 31, 2008 10:05 AM

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All cynicism, sarcasm and antagonism aside, it is frequently helpful for all of us to reflect a little. To end the year, here's a mailbag of sorts of your comments to recent articles and my responses:

Here is something that I don't think you seem to understand about the Sox' pursuit of Mark Teixiera: You are excoriating the Sox for 'stopping' at $170 million when $180 million would have gotten the job done. Don't you realize that if the Sox went to $180m, the Yanks would have gone to $190m? And if the Sox went to 200, the Yanks would have been at 210? Yeah, the Sox are a big market team, but they, like every other team in MLB, are simply not in the same financial status as the Yanks. Theo and crew wisely cut the cord when it became readily apparent that they were merely being used to drive up the price.''
Posted by "Kev"

Kevin, there is no disputing the fact that the Yankees can outspend anyone at anytime. Obviously, there was a lot involved in this negotiation, and it is certainly possible (or probable) that agent Scott Boras used the Sox. Or that Teixeira never had any intention of coming to Boston. Or both. Clearly, the Red Sox wanted Teixeira. That being the case, is it unreasonable to suggest that the Sox either overlooked the Yankees or negotiated in such a manner that allowed the Yankees to swoop in? Thanks for the note.

I think your take on the Hanley Ramirez talks is unnecessarily negative. It is not proof of desperation following the Teixeira Yankee-signing. Ramirez would be a great fit, and a better move than signing Teixeira because he would fill a slot that is a glaring weakness and improve the lineup without displacing Mike Lowell or Kevin Youkilis. I am not an insider so I may not understand this as well as you, but if I were the Red Sox, I would not give up on the Ramirez thing. In fact, I wouldn't rule out moving Clay Buchholz AND Jacoby Ellsbury to get him. I know it would be a risk, but I was concerned about what I saw from both of those guys this season.
Posted by "Rob40"

After releasing the initial story, it seems that Sports Illustrated updated the account later in the day to reflect that the Ramirez discussions took place before the Teixeira talks. Regardless, the point is that the Red Sox clearly believe they need a middle-of-the-order bat. That's all I was trying to say. If I were the Sox, I'd revisit Ramirez, too. I just can't see any reason why Florida would want to deal him after signing him to a six-year contract extension that begins in 2009.

I've been disappointed with Mazz as a commentator on all things Red Sox -- far too negative, dude. Sox are winners now. Mazz brings the attitude that existed before the Sox won, and those attitudes tend to be self-fulfilling. If you do love the Sox, Mazz, why do are continually tearing them down?
Posted by "sox fan in new mex"

Undoubtedly, there is some truth in this. As a lifelong Bostonian and follower of the Sox, I'm sure that failures like the Teixeira pursuit stir up the sediment. Over the last five or six years, on the whole, the Sox have indeed been winners, which is credit to ownership and management, from John Henry to Larry Lucchino, Theo Epstein and everyone down the line.

With regard to my feelings for the Sox, loving them is your job, not mine. The goal is to treat each story on a case-by-case basis, and I just can't see how the Teixeira development comes off as a positive. Is it the end of the world? Of course not. But I think the Sox needed this guy more than many suspect. You certainly have the right to disagree.

Once again, Mazz has totally missed the point. Theo and company not only gave themselves a spending limit in Teixeira, but they also did NOT cave on one of their big issues -- the no-trade clause. I applaud them for sticking to their guns.
Posted by "soxxyfan"

Soxxyfan, you are correct in stating that the Red Sox have a policy against no-trade clauses. However, the Sox have negotiated at least partial no-trade language with both J.D. Drew and Jason Varitek, both of whom are Boras clients. A source on the Boras side has indicated that the no-trade issue was not a deal-breaker in the Teixeira negotiations because the sides have worked around it before. Money was clearly the issue here, though it would be nice to get formal explanations from Boras, Teixeira and the Sox when baseball opens again for business after the New Year.

One other thing: Before the meeting between Sox ownership and Teixeira in Dallas, manager Terry Francona and general manager Theo Epstein also had a meeting with Teixeira in the Washington DC area before the winter meetings. (Multiple sources have confirmed this, meaning the Sox had the same kind of meeting early on that Yankees GM Brian Cashman did.) Epstein and Francona spent virtually an entire day with Teixeira. Just wanted to get that out there.

I usually like your writing a lot, but this gloom and doom stuff has to stop. We missed out on Tex, it stinks, let's move on. I'm not willing to write off a season before it's started. A little optimism would be much appreciated, and I think, warranted. We whined when we lost out on A-Rod. We whined when Johnny Damon left. Last time I checked, we've done just fine for ourselves.
Posted by "AG"

This was never meant to be doom and gloom. In my opinion, the Sox needed Teixeira more than many are willing to acknowledge, and that's okay. I certainly could be wrong about it. The Sox have a good team, no question. But because of unbalanced scheduling, they will now see very good pitching against Tampa and New York -- and with a lineup that could be weaker. To me, that is a little worrisome.

This club scored the third-most runs and had the second-best run differential in all of MLB last year. What has so drastically changed about this lineup that would expect this offense to suddenly fall off the map? Someone will have to help me here.
Posted by "Chris"

For starters, the Sox had Manny Ramirez for two-thirds of last season. Also, when the Sox exploded offensively in August, they did so largely against a succession of teams that had among the worst pitching in baseball. No one is saying the Red Sox are going to be a bad offensive team in 2009. But there is the very real chance they could be far closer to average, which could put a great deal of pressure on the pitching staff.

Tony what if they franchise Matt Cassel and he signs it like you say? They can still trade him after the fact. (Duh.) Why are you not reporting on baseball anymore??? Actually not a bad story.
Posted by "jimmiec"

Jimmie, you are correct in saying that the Patriots could still trade Cassel after franchising him. In order to do so, however, Cassel must be willing to tear up a guaranteed $14 million deal to renegotiate. What if he doesn't want to play for the team in question? What if he's willing to try free agency again next year? Admittedly, there are scenarios in which it would benefit Cassel to leave New England. Was merely trying to point out that Cassel has leverage here, too.

As usual, you don't get it. Cassel can get a lot more than $14m in guarantees and longer term non-guaranteed money if he leaves the Pats either via trade or free agency. If he signs a franchise tender, he guarantees one year but the next year is unknown. Moreover, Cassel has demonstrated he wants to play and can succeed playing. He does not want to sit on the bench backing up Brady for a year. Find me a player who signs the franchise tender before he has to. He can use it as a wedge to encourage a trade to a team he wants to go to. BTW how's Asante doing this year? He made the Pro Bowl but only based on reputation as he had a down year.
Posted by "tony doesn't get it"

Your points are good ones. The question is just how much Cassel wants to push to get his best-case scenario -- unrestricted free agency (with no franchise tag). From the other side: Do the Pats really want two high-priced quarterbacks in camp next year? Financially, that doesn't make sense. And what if Brady gets off to a slow start coming off knee surgery? Wouldn't that just be inviting a quarterback controversy? Again, just trying to point out the alternatives here.

The best move for the Pats appears to be to trade Brady now and install Cassel as the quarterback of the future. We should be able to sign him for less than Brady, freeing up salary cap dollars for use on the defense where we need help.
Posted by "Stephen in NH"

Stephen, my initial thought was to deem this approach preposterous. Still, let's play devil's advocate. Suppose the Patriots believe that Brady has, say, 3-5 good years left. Let's also suppose they believe that Cassel is the real thing and just scratching the surface. Based on those suppositions -- and, admittedly, those are big ifs -- it might actually make more sense to keep Cassel and move Brady, depending, of course, on the salary-cap implications.

Personally, not sure I'd do that, but doesn't it ultimately come down to the long-term evaluations and projections made by the Pats on both players?

Your analysis is flawed because you fail (like other analysts) to mention that the Pats don't necessarily have to take such a salary cap hit if they franchise Cassel. They will do what they've done before: restructure some other contracts to make it feasible. They WILL FRANCHISE Cassel, so stop the speculation. The Pats aren't stupid. They know there are no guarantees with Brady at this point, and they aren't going to put themselves in a position of not having a top-flight QB and, specifically, a guy who's shown his mettle and already knows the system.
Posted by "Lonsman"

Lonsman, you are correct with regard to the restructuring option. It's something I didn't get into and does have some merit. I'm still not sure it makes sense to have both Brady and Cassel in camp next year, but you raise an excellent point. Thanks for the comment.

Mazz, once again you prove you are a moron. Cassel would willingly sign the franchise tag, but only if he knows he will be given a deal with a new team and a chance to start. Unlike Asante Samuel, who knew a big contract was waiting for him as long as he stayed healthy, Cassel can't risk sitting for a full year behind Brady and having his value go down.
Posted by "Pete"

Pete, there is no need for Cassel to sign the tender if he wants to be traded. If and when the Patriots label him as a franchise player, a deal can be worked out. In a manner of speaking, signing the tender actually could make it more difficult to trade Cassel because he would then be guaranteed $14 million in 2009. (Yes, this can be torn up and renegotiated as part of a longer deal.)

With regard to spending 2009 on the sideline, how does that necessarily hurt Cassel's chances for 2010? Next year at this time, I'm willing to bet that several teams still will be looking for quarterbacks. Further, there is the possibility that 2010 could be an uncapped year, at least according to one NFL agent, meaning Cassel could command more on the open market.

What if the Patriots and Cassel come up with an "Asante Samuel" agreement in which Matt signs a one-year deal for $8 million (or so) with the guarantee he is a free agent after next year. He plays with Brady hurt or he plays a little, or he plays fourth quarters. I mean, how many times can you get a contract that sets up the next two generations of your family at a possible zero risk?
Posted by "getbos"

Getbos, this is an interesting idea. Cassel probably wouldn't play for $8 million when signing the franchise tender would get him $14 million, but he might be willing to bring the number down if the Pats assure him that he would not be franchised again. Of course, Cassel still would be better off getting more money AND playing, but you raise another possibility.

Man you're so smug in so many of your entries and not especially likable, looking for controversy ASAP and maybe even hoping to encourage it. The Patriots, as they almost always do, will make a decision for the team -- who else should they be making it for? They drafted and paid Matt Cassel to watch football games and learn from the best QB and organization in the game for several years. And not too many weeks ago you and probably more than half the fans were happy to dump on him. But the Patriots stuck by him helping him to succeed, and apparently for good reason. He did well and got better as the season went on, part him, part coaching and part the team.
Posted by "Steve Z"

We all understand that the Patriots need to do what is best for their organization, but Cassel needs to do what's best for him, too. With all due respect to your argument, did the Pats keep Cassel for his benefit or for theirs? On the one hand, it sounds like you're saying the Pats need to look out for their own interests. On the other, you're suggesting that they have done Cassel a favor. Until now, they kept him because he was a cheap option behind Brady. This is business. Nobody owes anyone anything.

Saved the season? I believe they missed the playoffs. If Brady had played they would have gone 15-1 or so and be in the playoffs.
Posted by "Tony"

Tony, nobody is disputing that the Patriots would have been a better team with a healthy Brady this year. At the very least, the game plan against, say, Indianapolis would have been totally different because Bill Belichick might have been more confident in his team's ability to match points with the Indy offense. Still, if Cassel had played as many expected -- average to poorly -- the season might have been over some time in November. Instead, the Pats took it to the wire in Week 17.

I know many like to accuse columnists of being negative, but I believe that the Patriots had an exceptional season this year under the circumstances. Belichick did a masterful job and is a leading candidate for Coach of the Year, though he probably will not win it. (Miami's Tony Sparano and Atlanta's Mike Smith are more likely choices.) The standards here got out of whack a long time ago, but the truth is that, in some ways, the last Patriots season finished in more disappointing fashion than this one. It's not necessarily a bad year if you fail to win the Super Bowl.

Thanks for the notes, everyone, and Happy New Year. Your continued interest and impassioned responses are appreciated.

Tony's Top 5

Favorite blog entries

The final chapter on Teixeira and How Red Sox pitchers work the strike zone Jan. 7, 2009 and July 17, 2009. Some actual reporting – an obsession with Mark Teixeira and the art of pitching.
For 2011 Red Sox, there was plenty of blame to go around Oct. 1, 2011. The disgraceful collapse of the Red Sox stoked the fire in all of us.
Behind Garnett and James, Celtics and Heat are digging in June 4, 2012. Improbably, the Celtics pushed the Heat to the limit.
Thrill is back for Patriots Jan. 30, 2012. Another Super Bowl has even Bill Belichick musing.
You’ve got to believe June 15, 2011. On the morning of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, we all had reason to believe.
Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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