Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason plans of every MLB team before the Dec. 3-6 winter meetings. Our series continues with the Boston Red Sox.
2007 record: 96-66
Finish: First place American League East, won the World Series
2007 opening-day payroll: $143 million
Re-sign Lowell. Or so says general manager Theo Epstein.
But what if? What if Epstein traded outfielder Coco Crisp (which will happen) and shortstop Julio Lugo (which could happen, if Boston wants to hand shortstop to prospect Jed Lowrie as it did second base to Dustin Pedroia), saw Manny Ramirez's $20 million salary coming off the books as early as 2009 and decided to make a run – another run, that is – at Alex Rodriguez?
Hey, it makes sense in enough ways to at least consider it. The Red Sox can afford A-Rod. All of those moves are feasible and could make Boston a better team, especially if Crisp nets them a reliable bullpen arm. And baseball executives – not just Boston's, but all of them – are just arrogant enough to believe that the culture can make the player and not vice versa.
(Laugh track again, please.)
Ain't happening. Realistically, the Red Sox will sign the 33-year-old Lowell to a three-year deal, even though he would prefer four and probably could snag it elsewhere. With Curt Schilling in pocket for $8 million – very well could be the steal of the winter, with Kyle Lohse and Carlos Silva likely to wrangle $40 million out of mediocrity – and the rest of the free agents spare parts, Boston should return its championship team almost completely intact.
Which, for everyone else, is no laughing matter.
Anyone who points at the Red Sox's payroll as their key to success doesn't get it. Sure, deep coffers allows $160 million for Ramirez and $103 million for Daisuke Matsuzaka, and yet the Red Sox are able to splurge because they do everything else right.
Boston features seven excellent, young homegrown players: Pedroia, first baseman Kevin Youkilis, center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, starters Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester, and relievers Jonathan Papelbon and Manny Delcarmen. For fun, let's toss in Lowrie and Justin Masterson, a sinkerballer rising fast through Boston's system.
Ellsbury was the lone first-round pick. Six were plucked in the second round, while Papelbon came in the fourth and Youkilis the eighth. Only Lester and Delcarmen were paid more than the recommended slot, by $200,000 and $100,000 or so, respectively. Youkilis cost $12,000.
In the end, for the rights to 54 years of baseball – that's six apiece before they hit free agency – the Red Sox paid a grand total of … $6,024,000
That is one year for a good middle reliever.
The Red Sox get it. The luxury of making a mistake such as J.D. Drew without egregious damage is invaluable, yes, but they can take risks because they're a player-development machine. Boston is the perfect blend of traditional scouting supplemented with numbers-based analysis, and with all but Youkilis still far from arbitration, the Red Sox will be loaded with enough low-salaried players to do whatever they please.
Thing is, they know better.
They've got the money. Just not the audacity.
NEXT: Chicago Cubs