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Sox, Boras square off again

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  December 19, 2008 11:09 AM

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So what we have here, it seems, is a rather high-stakes game of poker. Does Mark Teixeira really have better offers? Are the Red Sox really prepared to walk? Or are Scott Boras and John Henry just playing another game of chicken?

Roughly two months after the conclusion of the 2008 Red Sox season, the seemingly never-ending Teixeira talks have reached their breaking point. Something just has to give. Along with team president Larry Lucchino and general manager Theo Epstein, Sox owner Henry flew to Texas last night to meet with Teixeira and Boras at the player's Dallas-area home. When all was said and done, Henry blasted out an e-mail claiming that after hearing the offers on the table, the Sox were "not going to be a factor" in further negotiations for the coveted slugger.

Were this anything but a high-profile negotiation between the Red Sox and Boras, we might actually have a reason to believe the missive.

But both sides have a history of lying. Especially to each other.

How do they deceive? Let us count the ways. Two years ago, with the Sox holding all the leverage, Boras threatened to take Daisuke Matsuzaka back to Japan when the team's management got up and walked from the bargaining table. Boras spun so fast it's a wonder he didn't end up with vertigo. One year prior to that, the Red Sox stood firm on a four-year, $40 million offer to Johnny Damon, whom they were fully willing to sacrifice. After Damon agreed to a four-year, $52 million deal with the Yankees, the Sox claimed that Boras never called back and gave them the chance to counter.

A year after losing Damon, the Sox gave $70 million to another Boras client, J.D. Drew, who appeared to have no other offers.

Of course, any examination of past negotiations between the Sox and Boras must include the Sox' unforgettable pursuit of Alex Rodriguez, who leveraged his way out of Texas following the 2003 season. The Sox had deals in place in which they would swap Manny Ramirez and a pitching prospect named Jon Lester to the Rangers for Rodriguez while also sending Nomar Garciaparra to Chicago for Magglio Ordonez. The catch was that they allegedly needed Rodriguez to restructure his contract to make the numbers work, and the Major League Baseball Players Association rejected the restructuring proposal, at which point Lucchino called the negotiations "dead."

Miraculously, as soon as the Sox learned that the Yankees had a deal in place to acquire Rodriguez, life was breathed into the talks. The Sox suddenly didn't need that restructuring anymore, either, falling all over themselves trying to get back in the A-Rod game.

We all know what happened after that.

The Yankees got A-Rod and haven't won a World Series since. The Red Sox have won two.

Regarding Teixeira, there is no telling what the long-term ramifications will be if he does (or does not) end up in Boston. The A-Rod saga is proof of that. As much as we like to examine and analyze the Red Sox' way of doing things, let's not forget that dumb luck plays a big part in any team's success. Tom Brady was a sixth-round pick. The Celtics wanted the No. 1 or No. 2 pick, but ended up with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen instead. At various points, the Red Sox have tried to acquire Rodriguez, Jose Contreras, and Carl Pavano, among others.

And let's not forget, the trade that played an integral part in Boston's last World Series victory -- Hanley Ramirez and a batch of pitching prospects for Mike Lowell and Josh Beckett -- was executed during Epstein's highly-publicized sabbatical. Had Epstein's tenure peacefully existed without interruption, that deal probably would not have taken place.

In this particular negotiation, the Sox' actions are a little curious. Until now, the Sox have refrained from publicly acknowledging an interest in Teixeira, let alone the existence of a colossal offer to him. (On more than one occasion this winter, Epstein has said that the Sox have a policy of keeping these things private.) Now Henry is sending out blast e-mails in time for the 11 o'clock news -- what a coincidence, eh? -- which certainly suggests that the Sox are using the media as leverage against Boras. None of that reflects especially well on all of us who live (and work) in a supersaturated media world, where we are so eager to get the story that we have become pawns in multimillion dollar negotiations between absurdly wealthy athletes, agents, owners, and executives who are all trying to perpetuate their particular agenda.

As to whether the Sox actually need Teixeira, do not let them fool you. They wouldn't be in this thing, prepared to shell out close to $200 million, because they thought he might be fun to play with. The current Sox operators are businessmen to the nth degree, plain and simple. Epstein can insist all he wants, as he did at the end of the season, that the Sox are not "desperate" for anything. But when the club then goes out and offers the biggest contract in team history to a player on the open market, the team's actions belie its words.

In many ways, in fact, the Sox now need Teixeira more than ever for the simple fact that Mike Lowell (the widely assumed odd man out) must be feeling terribly unwanted these days. Without Teixeira, the Sox already have at least one relationship to repair. The Sox are in way too deep to just walk away now, which further suggests that they are merely calling Boras's bluff here in hopes of reaching a happy conclusion with Teixeira.

At the end of the day, Mark Teixeira either wants to play for the Red Sox or he doesn't.

Clearly, there is enough money on the table to satisfy all parties involved.

But at this stage, it's hard to root for anybody.

Editor's note: What do you think? Are the Sox bluffing? Share your thoughts in the comments section, and check out more of Tony's analysis in this ESPN video.

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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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