— I wouldn’t for a moment believe the Yankees aren’t interested in Manny Ramirez just because General Manager Brian Cashman said the team hasn’t made the free-agent slugger an offer. And the Red Sox had better not believe it, either.
It’s been a strange free-agent season so far. Arms have been hot commodities: The Yankees leaped into the pitching pool with trucks full of cash to sign CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. The Mets jumped on Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz, the Cubs signed Ryan Dempster, and the Indians went for Kerry Wood.
But with the exception of Rafael Furcal, who re-signed with the Dodgers, and Raul Ibanez, who went to the Phillies, the bats have remained in the rack. Two of the best hitters of this or any other generation are still out there — first baseman Mark Teixeira and left-fielder and designated free spirit Manny Ramirez. And teams have spent more time denying interest in them than in putting their money on the table.
Credit the recession with giving teams an excuse to play hard-to-get. They still want Ramirez and Teixeira, but they don’t want to pay the kind of money their mutual agent, Scott Boras, is demanding. If the economy can give them a negotiating tool, they’ll take it.
But some things never change. One of them is that the Yankees will open the vault to get the players they feel they need to win.
So when Ramirez told friends in the Dominican Republic that he felt he would get an offer from New York in the three-year and $75 million neighborhood, there’s got to be a reason he would say that. It could be just Boras telling him that, knowing the news would get out. Or it could be because the Yankees want his bat.
Cashman said no offer has been made, but he hasn’t said there isn’t any interest. He also hasn’t said the Yankees aren’t interested in Teixeira. That’s because no one would believe him if he did.
There aren’t many teams that can sign Manny and Teixeira. The Angels have said they won’t pay Teixeira’s asking price, and talk that he is considering the Orioles or the Nationals seems like a Boras tactic to drive up the price. That leaves New York and Boston.
You know that the Yankees will sign one of them and will talk seriously about getting both. That’s why the Red Sox can’t afford to sit by and do nothing. The Yankees have already significantly upgraded their pitching rotation, and they’re determined to add life to their line-up.
The Red Sox have said that they think they’re not in the Teixeira auction. If owner John Henry really means that, he’d better rethink that position. His team has to do something, and not just to keep up with the Yankees. The emergence of the Rays last year as the class of the American League dictates that.
Without the Rays, Boston could allow the Yankees to do whatever they want in the free-agent market. Fans may get excited about who finishes first, but the only thing that really matters is making the playoffs. The Yankees may have had divisional titles to brag about from 2001-2007, but the Red Sox had two World Series championships to zero for the Yankees. So much for winning the AL East.
But there’s only one wild card. If the Rays continue to play as well as they did last year and the Yankees improve, the Red Sox have to either keep pace with the Evil Empire or get used to spending October on the golf course — just like they used to in the not-so-good old days.
There’s really no way around it. The Red Sox were the second-best team in the AL East last year. Right now, they may still be better than the Yankees. But that changes as soon as New York adds one of the two big bats available.
If the Yankees land Manny, they can bat him behind Alex Rodriguez and make A-Rod a really dangerous hitter. Manny’s an RBI machine, and opposing pitchers won’t be able to pitch around A-Rod with runners on base and Manny on deck. And maybe if he doesn’t feel the pressure of being the biggest stick in the batting order, A-Rod won’t be as prone to gag in pressure situations.
Sandwich A-Rod between Teixeira and Manny, and the Yankees are beyond scary. Boston knows that, just as it knows the Rays are not a mirage that’s going to evaporate after one year.
The only solution is to sign Teixeira before New York does. If they let the Yankees take Teixeira first, they’re stuck with nothing, because there’s no way Manny is going back to Boston. And if they wait for the Yankees to make the first move, there may not be a second move to make.
You can’t blame any team for playing coy. They’ve been at the mercy of the agents for too long. If they see a way to drive down prices, you can’t blame them for grabbing it.
But you also can’t forgive Boston for coming out of this free-agent season with nothing while the Yankees collect all the best players on the market. Their choice isn’t to buy or not to buy. It’s to buy or finish third. And in Boston, as in New York, third place isn’t an option.