2 BOSTON RED SOX

April 05, 2009

Budgeted ForSuccess
Dollar for dollar, no team had a better off-season—but it will only pay offwith the wild card

PLAN A for theRed Sox over the winter was simple. "There was one player who we thoughtwas really worth a significant long-term commitment, because he was the rightage and had all-around skills and complemented our young core really well,"says general manager Theo Epstein. That player was 28-year-old free agent MarkTeixeira, the switch-hitting, Gold Glove first baseman whom the Yankees, twodays before Christmas, signed to an eight-year, $180 million contract, thefourth richest in baseball history. "The team that offered the most moneylanded the player," says Epstein. "That's how it works in free agency99 percent of the time. We offered a lot of money, but we didn't offer themost."

The Steinbrennerbankroll had once again lured an object of Boston's affection 200 milessouthwest, to the Bronx, but Epstein and his staff were already nimbly movingtoward Plan B even before Teixeira slipped into his pinstriped number 25jersey. "We realized that the market was conducive to some low-risk,high-reward-type deals," Epstein says. That value-investing approach led tothe rapid-fire signings between Jan. 8 and Jan. 30 of six free agents—all ofthem to one-year contracts, for a guaranteed total cost of $22 million, whichis roughly what the Yankees will have paid by mid-May to their three majoradditions (Teixeira and starting pitchers CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett), withmore than $401 million still owed to them.

Among the moreintriguing free-agent signees (which include outfielder Rocco Baldelli and twoplayers who reupped with the Red Sox, catcher Jason Varitek and utilityman MarkKotsay) are former Dodgers pitchers Takashi Saito and Brad Penny. Saito, 39,saved 81 games in three years with L.A., and Penny, 29, finished third in theNL Cy Young vote two years ago, but the 2008 season was ruined for both byinjuries (Saito's elbow, Penny's shoulder). That enabled Boston to pluck themfor bargain base salaries of $1.5 million (Saito) and $5 million (Penny).

Saito threw 94mph without pain shortly after he reported to spring training and will be readyto start the season as a setup man, and occasional substitute, for All-Starcloser Jonathan Papelbon. Penny, after experiencing shoulder weakness in earlyMarch, is in line to begin the year as the fifth starter. Even so, thefree-agent pickup who could have the greatest impact on the Red Sox' bid toreturn to the World Series—a seven-game ALCS loss to the Rays last Octoberdenied Boston a third trip in five years—won't pitch for them until late May atthe earliest.

That would beJohn Smoltz, the former Cy Young winner with the Braves who hasn't finished aseason with an ERA worse than 3.49 since 1994. He's 41 now and had surgery torepair damage to the labrum in his right shoulder last June 10. Smoltz's $5.5million contract will double if he remains on the active roster each day fromJune 1 through Oct. 4, and Red Sox insiders are thrilled to see that Smoltzappears dead-set on earning every cent. "He's an amazing athlete,"Varitek says of Smoltz's performance in early spring fitness tests. "He'sbeating 22-year-olds out there."

A healthy Smoltzwould afford Boston nearly unprecedented pitching depth, as he and Penny givethe club eight quality starters, including young Justin Masterson and ClayBuchholz. Add a bullpen that should be bolstered by Saito and, sooner or later,22-year-old Junichi Tazawa, who was discovered by Red Sox scouts in the amateurJapanese Industrial League and who pitched brilliantly this spring (one run andsix base runners allowed in nine innings, with 10 strikeouts) before being sentto Double A Portland. Then add an offense that ranked second in the AL in runsscored (845) last year and will benefit further from a healthy David Ortiz, andit's hard not to wonder if Plan B should have been Plan A all along. "Wewere really looking for a chance to buy low on elite talent," says Epstein."It made more sense for us."

It's a wisestrategy in any economic time, and one that will yield the Red Sox their sixthpostseason appearance in the last seven years.

CONSIDER THIS AModest Proposal ...

Second-yearcenterfielder Jacoby Ellsbury is slated to lead off for the Red Sox, but he maynot be suited for that job. After a great call-up in 2007—when he hit .353 in116 at bats and was a World Series standout—and a strong April last year,Ellsbury was overpowered by AL pitching. His lack of pop prompted pitchers toattack him, and he drew only 27 unintentional walks from May 1 on, putting up asubpar .325 OBP in that time while striking out in 15% of his at bats.Shortstop Jed Lowrie (left) doesn't have Ellsbury's speed or ability to hit foraverage, but his walk rate (35 in 306 plate appearances last year) is strongerand likely to give him a higher OBP than Ellsbury's. Boston will score moreruns with Lowrie, who was scorching the ball this spring (.408 batting average,12 extra-base hits in his first 49 at bats), atop the lineup.

THE NUMBERS

LIE 11.0

Hits per nineinnings allowed by Clay Buchholz last season. However, the 24-year-oldrighthander, however, was the victim of unusually bad luck: Opponents hit .355on balls in play (well above the AL average of .300). They are unlikely torepeat those numbers against Buchholz, whose strong finish at Triple APawtucket (4--2, 2.47 ERA) is a better indicator of his performance goingforward than are his numbers in Boston (2--9, 6.75).

The Lineup
WITH 2008 STATISTICS

Manager TerryFrancona
SIXTH SEASON WITH RED SOX

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

JACOBY ELLSBURY CF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 51 .280 9 47 50
DUSTIN PEDROIA 2B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 29 .326 17 83 20
DAVID ORTIZ DH
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 55 .264 23 89 1
KEVIN YOUKILIS 1B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 22 .312 29 115 3
J.D. DREW RF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 102 .280 19 64 4
JASON BAY LF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 53 .286 31 101 10
MIKE LOWELL 3B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 154 .274 17 73 2
JED LOWRIE SS
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 281 .258 2 46 1
JASON VARITEK C
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 239 .220 13 43 0
BENCH
ROCCO BALDELLI [NEW ACQUISITION] OF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 293 .263 4 13 0
JULIO LUGO IF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 211 .268 1 22 12

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

ROTATION
PITCHER PVR W L K/9 WHIP ERA
RH Josh Beckett 35 12 10 8.9 1.19 4.03
LH Jon Lester 7 16 6 6.5 1.27 3.21
RH Daisuke Matsuzaka 22 18 3 8.3 1.32 2.90
RH Tim Wakefield 99 10 11 5.8 1.18 4.13
RH Brad Penny [NEW ACQUISITION] 184 6 9 4.9 1.63 6.27
BULLPEN
PITCHER PVR W SV K/9 WHIP ERA
RH Jonathan Papelbon 11 5 41 10.0 0.95 2.34
RH Takashi Saito [NEW ACQUISITION] 229 4 18 11.5 1.19 2.49
LH Hideki Okajima 254 3 1 8.7 1.16 2.61

NEWACQUISITION
B-T: Bats-throws
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 69)

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EXCERPTED FROM SI

July 15, 2002

"Is he always like this?" I asked Joe Lindia,a guy from Providence who was Williams's driver. "Is he always ...Ted?" "Always," Lindia said. "You go with Ted, anything canhappen. Lindia told a story: In one of Williams's last seasons as a player, theRed Sox trained in Scottsdale, Ariz. Lindia went out to visit. One day,Williams said they should take a ride. They drove to the far edge of the townand went to a seedy motel. Williams directed Lindia to a certain room at theback. Lindia had no idea what was happening. Williams knocked on the door. Anold man, looking as seedy as the motel itself, answered. "Joe,"Williams said, "say hello to Ty Cobb."
—LEIGH MONTVILLE

For free access to all Red Sox stories and photographsfrom the SI archives, plus video clips, go to SI.com/vault.

PHOTOCHUCK SOLOMONPOST-OP PLAN The Red Sox are holding back Smoltz with an eye toward the postseason, in which he's 15--4. PHOTODAMIAN STROHMEYER (LOWRIE) PHOTO

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)