NEW YORK - In the catacombs of the old Yankee Stadium, dressed in a charcoal suit with pinstripes, Mark Teixeira settled his large frame into a rather ordinary folding chair yesterday. The latest member of the Yankees gently removed his cap, exposing an undeniable impression on his forehead.
Much too tight.
"Do you mind if I take this off?" Teixeira politely asked, softly dropping his cap on the floor in the wake of a press conference to announce his eight-year, $180 million deal with the Yankees. "It's a little too small."
And so, in the end, maybe it was that simple.
Maybe Mark Teixeira was merely determined to squeeze on a Yankees cap, independent of any greasing.
Yet, as the Red Sox, Yankees, and Teixeira all formally (and finally) move on today in what will go down as perhaps the greatest free agent competition in the considerable history between the participants in baseball's Hundred Years War, some final reflection is inevitable and mandatory.
Did the Red Sox overlook the Yankees here? (They say no.) Did Teixeira truly regard Boston as an option? (He says yes.) And what will the impact be on the American League in 2009 and beyond? (Time will tell.)
In the interim, let the record show that Teixeira acknowledged that he all but decided on the Yankees two weeks before Christmas, during a Dec. 12 dinner with his wife, Leigh, at the cou ple's Dallas-area country club. And let the record show, too, that the Teixeiras' weekly date came precisely six days before the Red Sox' fateful and fruitless visit to Dallas in hopes of closing a deal with the player.
Nonetheless, there is so much more to the story.
"The whole process was confusing," said Teixeira. "Sometimes I'd tell Scott [Boras] to stop calling me, then I'd call him five times a day saying, 'Tell me what you know.'
"Two weeks before Christmas, I talked to Leigh about it again, and we kind of decided that, hey, the Yankees are where we want to be. [Yankees general manager Brian Cashman] might want to give Leigh a hug, because when I asked her during the process, 'Where should I go, where should I go?' she'd always say, 'I just want you to be happy.'
"Finally she said, 'I want you to be a Yankee,' and it was a done deal. Once we got the contract figured out, it was a no-brainer for me."
Whether the Sox could have done anything to change that remains questionable, though club officials certainly would not have offered Teixeira the biggest contract in club history (and, at the time, third largest in baseball history) had they been operating with any degree of hopelessness. If and when the Sox choose to reflect on this saga - and they should - they should focus on Dec. 18, date of the infamous Dallas-area meeting that might have sealed the deal and instead sealed their fate.
According to a source familiar with the negotiations, the Sox began their pursuit of Teixeira with a six-year, $120 million proposal just minutes after the official bidding process began, shortly after midnight on the morning of Nov. 14. During the winter meetings Dec. 8-11 in Las Vegas, the Sox increased that offer to eight years and $168 million, an average of $21 million per season.
Roughly a week later, during the fateful meeting in Dallas that included Sox general manager Theo Epstein, Boras, and Teixeira as well as principal owner John Henry and team president Larry Lucchino, the offer peaked at $170 million over eight years - $10 million more than the club-record deal signed by Manny Ramírez during the winter of 2000-01.
Along the way, Epstein and Sox manager Terry Francona spent a day with Teixeira in the Washington, D.C., area Dec. 2, a meeting both sides described as highly productive. That meeting took place three days before Teixeira had an equally productive meeting with Cashman in the nation's capital as the player familiarized himself with a group of suitors that also included the Washington Nationals, Baltimore Orioles, and Los Angeles Angels.
"When I met with him in Washington, I felt that he wanted to be a Yankee," Cashman said yesterday. "He didn't say that, but I just got a really good feeling of like, 'You know what, if all things were equal, I think this is where he would prefer to play.' That was my sense. Then again, some players are good at selling that type of [sentiment], but that was my genuine feel."
Teixeira, meanwhile, expressed similar feelings about the Red Sox, calling Francona "a good man, a good manager," and referring to Epstein as "a great general manager - I enjoyed my time with him." All of that suggests the Sox had the momentum to close a deal in Dallas, something Teixeira suggested yesterday despite the assertion that his wife lobbied for a deal with the Yankees earlier.
All of that brings additional emphasis on the dynamic involving Teixeira, Boras, Henry, and Lucchino, the last two of whom were not present when Teixeira met with Sox officials in Washington. Boras and Lucchino are longtime adversaries, and one can assume Henry has had his share of frustrations with the agent, too. The Sox now have had tense negotiations with Boras in three of the last four seasons, with the departure of Johnny Damon, the acquisition of Daisuke Matsuzaka, and now Teixeira.
While Boras insisted that he did not string along the Red Sox - or, for that matter, anyone else - Teixeira said the Sox might have had a deal had they increased their offer Dec. 18. Multiple sources confirmed that Boras presented the Sox with a proposal in which Teixeira could have been signed for a guaranteed $176 million over eight years - precisely $22 million per season - but the deal included a pair of attainable vesting options that would have brought the value to $220 million over 10 years.
While it is unclear whether the Sox could have negotiated down those options, indications are that they dismissed the proposal.
Believing that Boras was bluffing, Henry then blasted out an e-mail to multiple media outlets in which he appeared to call Boras's bluff.
Less than a week later, Teixeira agreed to terms with New York.
"Every team did [have a chance]," said Teixeira. "I told my agent, 'This is the pecking order,' and I gave him my idea of who was going to be near the top.
"At the same time, I'm not going to lie to you guys. Contract was important. I wasn't going to take half as much money to play in New York. But when a team like New York steps up and is very competitive with their contract, it was an easy decision for me.
"I'm sure there could have been [a deal with Boston], but like I said, contract is important. When everyone was kind of around the same contract, there was no rush for me to make a decision, so that's kind of the way I went about that meeting with Boston.
"I have so much respect for [the Red Sox], but when their offer wasn't with the Yankees' and it just didn't seem like they were going to continue to better their offer, and the Yankees came in and did what they did, it was an easy decision."
Said Boras, "As far as Boston goes, I think Boston knows they got good-faith proposals and they were given proposals, which means, if accepted, the player would have signed the proposal. If teams reject them, they cannot in any way suggest they were strung along."
Indeed, even Cashman went so far as to suggest that he believed Teixeira would be a member of the Red Sox up to two hours before news leaked Dec. 23 that the Yankees had reached agreement.
Epstein again declined to comment publicly on the matter yesterday and the club has since agreed on deals with backup catcher Josh Bard and pitcher Brad Penny, though neither is represented by Boras.
However, in an e-mail to the Associated Press last night, Henry wrote, "There was no mention of the Yankees, but we felt all along that they were going to get the last call. That's what you deal with in working with Scott."
There now seems legitimate question as to whether the strained relationship between Boras and the Sox will affect the club's willingness to sign Jason Varitek, for whom there currently seems to be no market.
As for Teixeira, he will face the Red Sox at least 18 times a year for the next eight seasons.
By the end of that time, presumably, we will all know whether the classic cap of the New York Yankees was the right fit for him.Tony Massarotti can be reached at email@example.com and can be read at www.boston.com/massarotti
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