Party's Just Beginning (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday October 30, 2007 8:49AM; Updated: Thursday November 1, 2007 10:15PM
Get used to it. When you factor in option years, Boston controls the contracts of leftfielder Manny Ramirez, ace righty Josh Beckett, shortstop Julio Lugo and first baseman Kevin Youkilis through 2010; those of righty Papelbon, Ortiz and rightfielder J.D. Drew through 2011; Matsuzaka, lefty reliever Hideki Okajima, second baseman Dustin Pedroia, lefthander Jon Lester (the Game 4 winner) and righty reliever Manny Delcarmen through 2012; and Ellsbury and future ace righthander Clay Buchholz through 2013.
The only immediate threats to leave among the key Red Sox are Lowell, 33, and righthander Curt Schilling, soon to be 41, both of who will test the organization's resistance to paying for the declining phases of even its most popular players (see Martinez, Pedro; Damon, Johnny; and Lowe, Derek). The Red Sox will investigate the possibility of signing third baseman Alex Rodriguez, whose agent, Scott Boras, announced during the clincher that his client would opt out of his contract with the Yankees. Boston, however, is interested in Rodriguez "only on our terms," a source said, an indication that it would not be interested in the $30 million annual neighborhood that Boras believes Rodriguez will inhabit.
Members of the newly emboldened Red Sox Nation on hand at Coors Field sent club executives a distinct voice mail as the brass celebrated with players after the last out. "Don't sign A-Rod!" the fans chanted. "Re-sign Lowell!"
Whatever the off-season brings, the Red Sox will continue to emphasize player development as the backbone of their business. Lester, 23, who threw 5 2/3 shutout innings in the clincher, and Buchholz will go into the rotation in 2008. The 24-year-old Ellsbury is likely to displace Coco Crisp in centerfield, as he did in the World Series. And shortstop Jed Lowrie and righthander Justin Masterson, both 22, are next in line among Boston prospects to "make an impact next year," Epstein says.
"The free-agent market has always been an inefficient market," adds the G.M., whose otherwise strong track record includes some questionably expensive free-agent signings. "Now with teams locking up their better players to extensions, it's become a horribly inefficient market. That's another factor driving our player development."
With extra picks in that 2005 draft courtesy of the free-agent departures of Martinez and Lowe, and under Epstein's directive to find impact players, the Sox chose Ellsbury, righty reliever Craig Hansen, Buchholz and Lowrie. With an eye toward finding especially strong-willed players to flourish in the demanding Boston market, they compiled reports that ran as long as 10 pages just on the makeup of potential draftees.
Once in the system, every player meets annually with the farm director and the minor league field coordinator to address individual strengths, weaknesses and expectations, an idea the Red Sox swiped from the Indians. In Ellsbury's case Red Sox officials advised him to improve his pitch-selection and bunting skills, with the goal of developing the speedy outfielder into a classic leadoff hitter.