FORT MYERS, Fla. – It was a quiet day in Fort Myers. The medical updates in the Red Sox realm were promising, if rather uneventful.
Starter Brad Penny made progress while throwing off of flat ground. J.D. Drew took batting practice without an issue. The recovery of third baseman Mike Lowell is slightly ahead of schedule. John Smoltz also may end up pushing ahead of his scheduled return.
All of that contrasted in dramatic fashion to the soap opera unfolding roughly 130 miles away in Tampa Bay. A Yankees camp that has been engulfed in unwanted scrutiny due to the publication of “The Yankee Years” and the admission by third baseman Alex Rodriguez that he used steroids endured another wave of dread prompted by the three-time MVP.
Rodriguez has a torn labrum in his right hip, the very condition that prompted Lowell’s removal from Boston’s postseason roster and surgery last October. The perennial MVP candidate will try to play through the injury, but the Yankees are left to fret not only about his ability to perform this year, but also about what the condition might mean for the remaining nine seasons on a 10-year, $275 million contract.
The latest chapter in the staggering saga of Rodriguez’ New York tenure offered yet another chance to wonder: what if?
The Red Sox, of course, were ready to pull the trigger on a trade with the Rangers to acquire Rodriguez for the 2004 season. The Players’ Association prevented the deal from happening, however, refusing to allow Rodriguez to accept a pay cut to come to Boston. And so, the Red Sox kept Manny Ramirez and Jon Lester, and Rodriguez ended up becoming a Yankee.
Since going to New York, Rodriguez has won a pair of MVPs, leads the majors in homers, is among the major-league leaders in virtually every statistical category and has been an unquestionable force on the field. Yet five full seasons (and two Red Sox World Series) later, there are few Red Sox fans who bemoan the fact that Rodriguez ended up in Pinstripes.
Admittedly, had Rodriguez been traded to the Red Sox prior to 2004, he might no longer be a member of the team this spring. He might have exercised an opt-out clause (as he did in New York following the 2007 season) and signed elsewhere.
All the same, it seems safe to suggest that few who either play for or follow the Sox would have been very enthusiastic about the prospect of having to deal with the Rodriguez circus this spring. Since 2004, it is all but impossible to recall an instance in which a member of the Sox has been left to wish that Rodriguez had indeed come to Boston.
In fact, few high-profile players whom the Yankees acquired this decade by outbidding the Sox have come back to haunt Boston. Instead, it seems at times as if the Yankees have purchased one Trojan Horse after another.
The notion is interesting to contemplate following a winter when the Yankees outbid the Sox for Mark Teixeira. Perhaps the switch-hitting first baseman will represent a player whom Boston will dread facing over the next eight seasons.
If that happens, he will be an aberration in the recent history of the personnel tug-of-war between the Red Sox and Yankees. Here is a look back at the recent history of top talents whom both clubs pursued by offseason (and, in some cases, in-season) deal.
Red Sox acquired rights to Daisuke Matsuzaka for $51.11 million and sign him for six years, $52 million
Yankees sign Roger Clemens for one year (partial), $18.5 million
The Red Sox shocked the baseball world by outbidding everyone – including the Yankees – by $15-20 million for the right to negotiate with pitcher Matsuzaka. Though the pitcher came at a steep price, one can make a case that he has been worth the cost (at least to this point).
Matsuzaka is 33-15 with a 3.72 ERA as a member of the Sox, and finished third in American League Cy Young voting last season, when he went a very bizarre 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA.
Though the Sox were interested in bringing Roger Clemens to Boston, they were not desperate to acquire the seven-time Cy Young winner when he shopped his services early in the 2007 season in part because they had Matsuzaka. Instead, it was the Yankees who paid $46 million for five years of Kei Igawa and then swooped in and paid Clemens roughly $18.5 million for 17 starts and 99 innings in ‘07.
Clemens went 6-6 with a 4.18 ERA for the Yankees. New York was 8-9 in his starts. By the end of 2007, the Yankees probably would have paid $18.5 million simply for the opportunity to avoid having to deal with the appearance of Clemens in the Mitchell Report.
ADVANTAGE: RED SOX.
Yankees sign Johnny Damon for four years, $52 million
In 2006, the signing of Johnny Damon by the Yankees seemed to represent a catastrophe for the Red Sox, who came up short in their bidding for their iconic Idiot. That year, after would-be successor Coco Crisp broke his finger at the start of his Boston career, the Sox never found a suitable replacement for the role of offensive catalyst and centerfielder.
Damon has been a valuable piece for the Yankees, hitting .286 with a .362 OBP and .448 slugging mark. (As a Red Sox from 2002-05, he hit .295, .362, .441.) Yet as he has faced an ever-growing number of injuries, both his defense and impact on the bases has suffered. He was converted to left field on a full-time basis last year, and he isn’t worth $13 million at that position.
SLIGHT ADVANTAGE: YANKEES
Yankees acquire Bobby Abreu and Corey Lidle from the Phillies for four minor leaguers
The Red Sox would have loved to acquire Abreu in 2006, but their unwillingness to pay all of the outfielder’s salary led to a deal that sent him from Philadelphia to New York for four non-prospects. Abreu helped to make the Yankee offense a wrecking ball in ’06 at a time when injuries ravaged the Boston lineup.
Though Abreu remained an on-base presence in ’07 and ’08 (combined .289 average, .370 OBP, .458 slugging), J.D. Drew – who was signed following the 2006 season with money that would not have been available had Abreu been acquired – has been better not just offensively (.275, .389, .465) but also defensively.
Of course, Abreu has been on the field more than Drew, and the Yankees are done paying him, whereas the Sox have three more years of Drew at $14 million each.
SLIGHT ADVANTAGE: YANKEES
Yankees sign Carl Pavano for four years, $40 million
Connecticut native Carl Pavano inspired a border war that, four years later, seems difficult to imagine. The oft-injured hurler cashed in on a career year in 2004 (18-8, 3.00) by agreeing to a four-year deal with the Yankees.
Pavano spent most of the four years on the disabled list, and was openly disparaged by his teammates. He went 9-8 with a cool 5.00 ERA.
The benefit of Pavano’s non-signing was mitigated, however, by the Red Sox’ reinvestment of their money into Matt Clement. Clement pitched a season and change in Boston before a labrum tear wiped out much of his 2006 and all of his 2007 seasons.
Though an All-Star in his first half-season in Boston in 2005, Clement faded ingloriously, and finished his Red Sox career with an 18-11 record and 5.09 ERA. For that, he was paid roughly $25 million.
SLIGHT ADVANTAGE: RED SOX
Red Sox acquire Curt Schilling from the Diamondbacks for Brandon Lyon, Casey Fossum and two minor leaguers
Curt Schilling wanted to pitch for the Yankees. The Yankees wanted Curt Schilling to pitch for them. Curt Schilling did not want to pitch for the Red Sox. The Red Sox wanted Curt Schilling to pitch for them.
The Yankees never thought that Schilling would end up in Boston, given his no-trade clause and open proclamation that he didn’t believe the Sox were a good fit for his services. Yet the Boston front office convinced Schilling to head East. Though the Sox had to offer the pitcher a costly extension, the prospect price was minimal for the Sox, since the Diamondbacks were looking to dump salary.
Schilling won 21 games and a few memorable postseason contests in 2004, then went 3-0 in the 2007 playoffs. The Yankees, after losing out on Schilling, acquired Kevin Brown and Javier Vazquez, the two pitchers who spit the bit for New York in Game 7 of the ALCS.
ADVANTAGE: RED SOX
Yankees acquire Alex Rodriguez and cash from the Rangers for Alfonso Soriano and Joaquin Arias
Yes, Alex Rodriguez has been one of the best players in baseball since this deal went down. Yet even before this spring’s woes, he has been a polarizing figure in New York, and one accused of shriveling at the most crucial moments.
The Sox may be glad to be rid of Manny Ramirez now, but they certainly benefited from his presence for most of the past five years, as he served as a lineup centerpiece for a pair of World Series winners.
Though Rodriguez was the better defender, hit more homers and did a better job of staying in the lineup, Ramirez had a higher average (.310 to .303), OBP (.408 to .401) and slugging mark (.585 to .573) than his Yankees counterpart from 2004-08.
The emergence of Jon Lester as a top-of-the-rotation starter tips the scales.
SLIGHT ADVANTAGE: RED SOX
Yankees sign Jose Contreras for four years, $32 million
After Theo Epstein took over as general manager of the Red Sox in 2002, the prize target of his first offseason was clear: Jose Contreras. The Cuban right-hander featured a fastball/split-finger combination that seemed cut from the mold of a power-pitching ace.
Though Contreras had never pitched professionally, the Sox were willing to spend “big,” not only monopolizing every hotel room in Managua, Nicaragua, during negotiations, but also making an initial four-year, $24 million offer. But the Yankees blew them out of the water with a four-year, $32 million deal.
Despite immense talent, Contreras always seemed uncomfortable in New York. He was dealt after a year and a half to the White Sox for Esteban Loaiza.
The Sox had a bit of loose change in their pockets when Contreras rejected their overtures, and so the team could sign a couple of low-cost free-agents in January. David Ortiz and Mike Timlin both panned out fairly well.
ADVANTAGE: RED SOX
Yankees sign Mike Mussina for six years, $88.5 million
Red Sox sign Manny Ramirez for eight years, $160 million
The Red Sox and Yankees both had Mike Mussina as their top priority when the right-hander reached free agency following the 2001 season. As is usually the case in free agency, the Yankees paid more.
Mussina was a steady No. 2 for the term of his contract, averaging 15 wins and a 3.80 ERA over the life of the deal. New York got what it paid for.
The Sox were left to pursue their fallback, a 28-year-old outfielder who had emerged as one of the best hitters in the game. Manny Ramirez came at a steep price, but when he was on the field, he usually performed up to the standards of one of the biggest contracts in baseball history.
Both Mussina and Ramirez will end up in the Hall of Fame, so it’s hard to say that either side was a loser.
Even so, Mussina was judged as one of the best pitchers in the game just once during that contract, placing fifth in Cy Young voting in 2001. Ramirez was a top 10 MVP candidate in six of the eight years of that contract – though one comes with an asterisk, since he ranked fourth in National League MVP balloting last year, after quitting on the Red Sox.
ADVANTAGE: RED SOX
Alex Speier is a senior writer for WEEI.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.