December 2006

In the spirit of the holidays …

It’s that time of year. Time for some nice, light, easy reading.

So here it is. If there was a Red Sox Santa Claus, here would be some of the items on his shopping list:

For Terry Francona: A somewhat accomplished closer. Otherwise, he’ll have to double his Tums supply.

For Curt Schilling: A healthy and successful finish to a terrific career, capped off by a few more October moments from one of the great clutch pitchers of this generation.

For Jon Lester: A permanent good-bye to cancer.

For Jason Varitek: A healthy body that can return him to the fine player he was before last season.

For David Ortiz: An MVP. If you could pick one hitter in baseball who has been THE MVP of the last four years, it’s been Ortiz. One of these years, he should get the actual trophy to show for being the game’s best clutch hitter.

For Manny Ramirez: The knowledge that he will never play in a city where fans love him more, and the ability to actually enjoy it, instead of needlessly being unhappy.

For Josh Beckett: Refined command of his offspeed stuff, which would make him one of the league’s dominant pitchers.

For Coco Crisp: The stroke that all of us saw last year at Spring Training, when he looked primed for a breakout year.

For Jonathan Papelbon: The same success as a starter that he had as a closer.

For Daisuke Matsuzaka: Immediate trust in Varitek’s fingers. That will ease his transition to MLB as much as anything.

For Mike Lowell: A few more feet on some of those doubles from last year. Then you’re talking about more home runs and more RBIs.

For Julio Lugo: A stay-in-Boston card. Shortstop has been far too fluid for the Red Sox in recent years.

For Dustin Pedroia: David Eckstein-karma. Then, the Red Sox would truly have a player on their hands.

For J.D. Drew: A chance from the fans. Don’t write a guy off before he even sets foot into Fenway.

Any other suggestions welcome!

Ian.

Done deal

Finally, it’s over. The Red Sox got their man. All that remains is the official coronation of Matsuzaka, which will likely take place at Fenway on Thursday afternoon.

I have to say, the Red Sox did some job making this deal happen. Frustrated that Scott Boras was going into the four corner offense, Theo and Lucchino — who says these two guys aren’t united? — jetted to California and put their collective lawyering skills to use, getting this thing done at a very reasonable annual average value of about $9 million per season, which doesn’t include the enormous posting fee.

It’s going to be a fun ride. How will Matsuzaka’s dominance in Japan transfer to the United States? Will this be the best Red Sox pitching rotation of all-time?

Can the Red Sox live up to what will be huge advance billing in ’07?

Baseball is back at a fever pitch — if you will — in Boston.

That’s all I have to say tonight. It’s been a long, long day.

Dice-K headed for Beantown

In a shocker, the recent negativity surrounding the Dice-K negotiations was nothing more than good old-fashioned posturing that always takes place in such a high stakes transaction.

Matsuzaka is flying the friendly skies to Boston today, along with Boras, Theo and Lucchino. The Red Sox clearly took initiative by flying out to California to get a deal done when Boras didn’t seem to want to come to them, and it seems like it paid off.

I wonder what the vibe on the flight will be if they actually reach a deal 18,000 feet above ground. Will Theo bust out the champagne? Maybe Boras has a bottle of Dom Perignon on hand. Will there be a sushi feast?

Sounds like the contract is going to be for six years. That’s great that the Red Sox can get him signed all the way through free agency.

It seems like just logistics are left — a physical, dotting some i’s, crossing some t’s.

They might as well go for broke now and sign Clemens. How about a rotation of Matsuzaka, Schilling, Clemens, Beckett and Papelbon?

Now they just need to find a closer. Meanwhile, Lugo to be unveiled today. Not sure why it is taking so long to announce the J.D. Drew deal.

Talk to you later,

Ian.

To Live and Die in LA

Anyone remember that movie? Anyway, that’s essentially what Theo Epstein and Larry Lucchino are doing today in regards to the Matsuzaka situation. This thing is coming to a head, and the intrigue is at a top shelf level right now.

Interesting how both sides vowed they wouldn’t say anything throughout the negotiations, but Boras felt the need to have a presser last night, and then the Red Sox — only naturally — felt compelled to give their side of the story.

I loved how John Henry spoke up last night — unprompted during the call — and basically called Boras out for not negotiating with the Red Sox during much of this process. Great to see the owner get fired up. It’s the first time he’s really done that since he blasted Arn Tellem for his version of the Nomar negotiations.

How much will it take to get this man in a Red Sox uniform? Is there an amount that would satisfy Scott Boras?

I wonder if Theo and Lucchino took some Japanese speaking lessons so they can give Matsuzaka some advice that Boras won’t interfere with. I’d love to be a fly on the wall during the negotiations.

Just remember, John W. Henry’s private jet leaves Southern California on Wednesday, and if Matsuzaka doesn’t take the flight home Theo and Larry, you’re talking about a very empty journey back East.

I have my annual holiday party tonight, so I’m turning over the Matsuzaka watch to my estimable colleague, Mr. Mike Petraglia, for the rest of the night. I’ll be back tomorrow.

Keep the faith,

Ian

Almost decision day for Dice-K

Pessimism is everywhere right now with regard to these Daisuke Matsuzaka negotiations, which, in case you’ve been living under a rock, expire at midnight at the end of Thursday.

What happened to the glow after the Sox made that enormous bid of $51.1 million on Nov. 14? All of a sudden, it’s just going to come down to a game of hardball between Scott Boras and the Red Sox, seeing who is going to blink first?

I have to think this deal still gets done. Neither side has anything to gain by not getting a deal done.

Well, maybe Boras can make a lot more money off of Matsuzaka following the 2008 season when he could become an outright free agent. But what sense does that make? Matsuzaka could blow out his arm pitching for Seibu between now and then and both he and Boras wouldn’t receive a cent of MLB money. Is that really doing a service to Matsuzaka, who has vowed how much he wants to pitch in the Major Leagues next year and has already pretty much said his good-byes in Japan.

From what everyone says about the customs in Japan, a Matsuzaka return would not be well received there. When you say good-bye, you say good-bye. You don’t come back because your agent is trying to capitalize your absolute top dollar value.

Matsuzaka has been making $3 million a year. He could get, at minimum, a raise of $6 million per season by taking Boston’s initial offer.

But I do understand why Boras is playing a little hardball. I mean, Gil Meche is making $11 million in this market? But Boras might be looking for $15 million a year, which seems outrageous for a guy who has never thrown a pitch in the Major Leagues.

Seriously though, why don’t the sides just find common ground and strike a deal? Maybe they will. The Red Sox would be in a bad spot not to sign this guy. Just about all the best pitchers have gone elsewhere.

Not to mention the Seibu Lions, who wouldn’t feel too kindly about losing out on the $51.1 million posting fee. This just has to get done, no matter how strong a stance Boras puts forth.

Again, I think this deal will get done, but not without plenty of posturing and drama between now and Thursday at midnight.

This is Theo's team now

More than in any offseason, Theo Epstein has put his official stamp on the upcoming Red Sox edition.

He has stuck his neck out and paid big money for both J.D. Drew and Julio Lugo — moves that the public don’t seem completely sold on — at least not yet. Obviously there was the $51.1 million bid for Matsuzaka and who knows how big the contract will be.

This is the first time, I believe, since he made the Nomar trade that Theo has completely put his cards on the table and said, "If this works, great, If not, I’m going to get carved up."

There is both high risk and high reward and it the result could be World Series or bust. I’m fascinated to see the way it all comes together.

It looks like Manny is staying, and I think that’s a good thing for J.D. Drew’s sake. He’s a strong No. 5 hitter. That would be way too much pressure for him to have to replace Man-Ram. Obviously the Red Sox are confident enough that Manny will be OK with staying. At this hour, I’d really be shocked if he isn’t in Fort Myers in February.

The one place the Red Sox are short right now is in the closer’s role. Will it be Eric Gagne? Only if the price comes down. RIght now, Gagne and agent Scott Boras are asking an awful lot (probably $6 or 7 million over one year) for a guy who has thrown 15 innings in two years.

Anyway, Theo has put his cards on the table. Let’s see if he gets black jack.

Ian.

Back to Foulke?

Could the Red Sox search near and far for a closer and determine that the new closer is the same as the old closer?

Bumped into Dan Horwits, Foulke’s agent, this morning in the lobby here at the Winter Meetings and he said that, "I wouldn’t rule out a return to Boston either, as stange as it sounds."

Horwits is meeting with Theo Epstein today to discuss not just Foulke, but also another of his clients, Octavio Dotel. If Dotel truly is healthy, he could be a worthwhile investment. It wasn’t that long ago that he had electric stuff.

As for Foulke, it’s hard to know what’s going on. The Red Sox don’t pick up his option, Foulke doesn’t pick up his player option, then the Sox offer him arbitration?

Horwits said that Foulke isn’t likely to accept arbitration, but wouldn’t his best deal be to take arbitration and keep his salary in the $7 million range? Upon further review, I was way off on this. I spoke with a baseball official who informed me that, since Foulke already applied for free agency, his arbitration figure has nothing to do with what he made last year. In other words, the Red Sox would probably get him very cheap in arbitration, which is why he is almost certain not to accept arbitration.

If Foulke comes back to the Sox, I’m sure it would be under an incentive-laden deal.

Also, Horwits says that Foulke is now the healthiest he’s been since prior to the 2004 season. Is that just an agent talking, or is Foulke finally getting back to form? He did have a 0.00 ERA in September.

Keep an eye on this one. There are five teams in on Foulke right now. I know the Indians are in, and the Diamondbacks (Foulke lives in Phoenix) are not in yet.

In other news, the Manny talks continue. The Dodgers think the Red Sox are asking for too much. The Padres are supposedly out altogether. The Giants are supposedly going to re-sign Bonds, so that would eliminate them.

Why do I have a feeling I’ll be blogging to you at next year’s winter meetings wondering where Manny is going?

Maybe the Angels are still in this thing, but are just staying quiet like the Yankees did last year with Johnny Damon. Who knows.

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