Theo Epstein and company will be caught between a rock and a hard place this winter, figuratively speaking — the rock being their commitment to fiscal sanity and reasonable personnel decisions, and the hard place being Scott Boras.
Oh, if Theo only had a nickel for every time that problem came up.
Baseball's most powerful superagent is in for a relative down year. He doesn't have the signature superstar to dangle under the noses of the game's 30 GMs this winter — no Alex Rodriguez, no Mark Teixeira, not even a Daisuke Matsuzaka, really. But with a few mid-level stars hitting the market this offseason in search of deals, Boras will still probably find a way to feed his family. Have no fear.
The question is whether the Red Sox will have anything to do with him. Namely, there are four players — Matt Holliday, Rick Ankiel, Mike Gonzalez and Adrian Beltre — who have caught Theo's eye. All of them would be an immediate boost to the Red Sox in 2010, but all are Boras clients, meaning none will come cheaply.
Holliday is the biggest star of the bunch. After cranking out a 1.023 OPS and 13 home runs in two months in St. Louis after the trading deadline, Holliday will be ready to cash in in a big way. He turns 30 this winter, and he'll be out seeking the biggest contract of his career. Objectively, he's no better a player than Jason Bay, but Boras will be out to get Bay-level money. At least.
Ankiel is a wild card. After coming up a decade ago as a wild and erratic, yet somewhat promising pitcher, he reinvented himself in 2007 as a slugging outfielder. He went deep 25 times in 2008, but he then regressed in '09 when he suddenly forgot how to get on base. He's capable of producing a monster season, but he could also be a bust. Guess which possible scenario Boras will be talking about.
Gonzalez is a solid reliever in the National League, putting up a 2.57 ERA in seven seasons with the Pirates and Braves. He'd be an excellent backup plan if offering Billy Wagner arbitration doesn't work out.
Beltre is a third baseman with some pop — a possible replacement for Mike Lowell, who's been the subject of recent trade rumors.
All of these players show promise. But none are essential. They're all replaceable commodities — you fail to sign one power-hitting outfielder, you get another instead. Life goes on.
Boras loves attaching lofty, expensive adjectives to his clients. They're "extraordinary." They're "legendary." They're "once in a lifetime." The Red Sox are too smart for any of it. They won't fall for Boras' games.
The Red Sox have been down this road before. And more often than not, they veered away at the last minute before crashing into Boras.
In 2004, the Red Sox sat down to negotiate a new contract with Derek Lowe, who had just pitched the deciding games of the franchise's ALDS, ALCS and World Series wins to give the team its first world championship in 86 years. They made Lowe a reasonable offer — three years, $27 million — and Boras said no. The Sox moved on.
A year later, it was Johnny Damon. Boras wanted a five-year contract while the Red Sox wanted a short-term commitment to a 32-year-old outfielder. The Sox offered three years, Boras wouldn't budge and the two parted ways. End of story.
In 2008, it was Teixeira. We all know what happened there — the Yankees offered eight years and $180 million, and Theo offered Boras the door.
The Red Sox have been in this position before. Many, many, many times. And they've usually made the right decision.
Theo might have his eye on a few tempting Boras clients this winter, but he knows to keep his interest in them within reason. The Sox have plenty of money, but they only want to spend it wisely.
Any one of Boras' four stars would make a nice addition to the Red Sox next season. But if the price is wrong, there are plenty of other fish in the sea. Reasonable fish.