Red Sox set sights on Teixeira

LAS VEGAS – He is a decision-maker for a team that wants to be in the mix for free agent Mark Teixeira, but he has no illusions regarding the chances that Teixeira will sign with his team.

“I think he’ll sign with the Red Sox,” the official said. “They want him. They have a good relationship with [agent Scott] Boras, and in the end, they have the dollars to make it happen.”

There was a lot of attention paid Monday to the fact that Red Sox GM Theo Epstein met with pitcher CC Sabathia and his agents, as well as the agents for pitcher A.J. Burnett, but there is little doubt in baseball circles that Teixeira remains the No. 1 object of Boston’s affections.

They face formidable competition for his services – the Angels are desperate to keep him, and one source familiar with negotiations say that the Yankees are in “huge” on Teixeira, though New York GM Brian Cashman told reporters that while he met with the switch-hitting first baseman last week, he hasn’t made him an offer. Sabathia remains the Yankees’ top choice, although if the Red Sox make an offer to Teixeira, it could prompt the Yankees to jump in on the first baseman, abandon Sabathia and fill their pitching need with Burnett, Derek Lowe or Ben Sheets.

Other teams that have been mentioned as possible contenders for Teixeira’s services include the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals, teams close to where Teixeira grew up. But unless the Red Sox ultimately deem Teixeira’s price too high, an unlikely proposition for a club that was willing two winters ago to sign oft-injured outfielder J.D. Drew to a five-year, $70 million deal, they would seem ideally positioned to trump all other offers.

“He is a perfect fit for the Red Sox and Boston,” said another club official. “A guy who plays every day, doesn’t need to be the center of attention, is a good teammate, and can hit like he does, I can’t see the Red Sox letting him get away.”

There are other considerations, however. Boston’s top prospect is Lars Anderson, a left-handed hitting first baseman who projects to make it to the big leagues by 2010. They have an All-Star first baseman in Kevin Youkilis. Their most prolific hitter, when healthy, is DH David Ortiz. And third baseman Mike Lowell – the 2007 World Series MVP – is coming back from hip surgery.

“We got a great report on Mikey today,” manager Terry Francona said Monday. “He was in Boston and got a sparkling report, which was really nice to hear. I think the timetable is he’ll be hitting by the middle of January. I think everybody, from the medical people on down, believe that when the season starts, he’ll be ready to go.

“The report today from [rehab coordinator/assistant trainer] Mike Reinold is that he has better range of motion today than he has since he joined our ballclub. Obviously, he’s been working very hard. This has to run its course, but when all is said and done, he’s going to be in a lot better shape than he was trying to fight through it last season.”

A healthy Lowell back for next season, a prized prospect like Anderson waiting in the wings, a case could be made that the Red Sox could continue to prosper without Teixeira, especially if it will take something in the neighborhood of eight years at $20 million a year to strike a deal.

Francona even suggested as much.

“We certainly know the competition we’re up against,” he said. “We don’t feel the need to sign somebody for more years than the organization is comfortable with and puts the organization in peril.”

Ortiz last month had mentioned his wish that the Red Sox add another 30-homer, 100-RBI man. Did Francona share Ortiz’s desire?

“If we sign one, yeah,” he said. “If we don’t, no. I really, at the end of the year, liked our team a lot. I think we’re a good team as is, if we play good baseball and stay healthy, we’re already a pretty good team.”

But he also said, “I know we’re going to sign people, we always do.”

So, why the meetings with Sabathia and Burnett? (A Red Sox official said late Monday night the team was “fully engaged” in talks with Burnett.) It smacks of a fallback plan if the Red Sox decide Teixeira’s price exceeds the value they’ve placed on him. Epstein will not be caught unprepared.

Gordon Edes is a national baseball writer for Yahoo! Sports. Send Gordon a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Tuesday, Dec 9, 2008