12/22/09 4:36 PM EST
Your move: What will Red Sox do next?
Yanks' deal for Vazquez is latest in Hot Stove chess match
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
Terms like "check your ego at the door" do not apply to the Red Sox and Yankees. These two clubs have fat wallets, high expectations, eager fan bases and a one-up attitude between each other that is simply not rivaled in Major League Baseball.
So, now that the Yankees added Javier Vazquez to their already-stellar starting rotation in hopes of matching Boston's acquisition of John Lackey, the next question is obvious: What will the Red Sox do next?
And based on track record, this much is pretty favorable: They won't stay quiet.
Boston was the tone-setter last week, when it became the first of the two to add an ace pitcher while also countering New York's Curtis Granderson signing with the acquisition of Mike Cameron.
The Yankees said they were going into this offseason with a tight budget, but the adrenaline and competition that comes with baseball's offseason now has them paying Vazquez $11.5 million next season, along with Granderson's guaranteed $25.75 million over the next three years.
Will Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein go against his perceived plan of signing just one player to a big contract this offseason -- in this case, Lackey -- while going the relatively economical route to address other holes?
"I don't think we feel a sense of desperation," Epstein said recently. "I think we like the pieces that we have right now.
"By no means am I saying we're done, but I also don't feel so rushed to go out there and do something dramatic."
Yeah, but that was said before the already high-powered Yankees -- who will no doubt look for another bat now with a hole in left field -- took it a step further by adding to one of the best starting rotations in baseball.
From the Red Sox's perspective, their starting staff and defense look very strong heading into next season, but they may need to add a power bat to match up with the Yankees, who already nabbed a potential corner-infield target by closing in on a deal with Nick Johnson.
And with fewer than two months remaining before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, they have some pricey alternatives if they're willing to spend more money.
Option A: The Red Sox could go big -- really big. They can use Jacoby Ellsbury as trade bait, plug the newly acquired Cameron in center field and go after a marquee left fielder to give them some legitimacy in the middle of the order. Matt Holliday or Jason Bay, anyone? All indications right now are that the Red Sox -- fresh off signing Lackey to a five-year, $82.5-million contract -- would not cough up the money it's going to take to sign either. But each of them seems to have just one main aggressive suitor at the moment -- Bay in the Mets, and Holliday in the Cardinals -- and don't seem to be in any hurry to sign. The Boston Herald wrote late Monday night that while an acquisition of Bay and Holliday remains a long shot, it's still "within the realm of possibility." Boston reportedly made offers to Bay and Holliday before signing Lackey, so maybe those come to fruition once again. Bay would seem to be the more likely of the two for Boston, because it would probably take less guaranteed years to lock him up and the Red Sox were his most recent club.
Option B: The Red Sox could pull off the trade. One that would certainly trump the three-team blockbuster deal that landed Granderson in the Bronx. They can use the Lackey and Cameron signings to free them up to trade for Padres slugger Adrian Gonzalez. San Diego obviously needs to be swept off its feet to get rid of Gonzalez, one of the best first basemen in baseball and one who's owed a very economical $10.25 million over the next two seasons when including his 2011 club option. ESPNBoston.com first hinted via Twitter recently that the Red Sox engaged in Gonzalez talks during the Winter Meetings in Indianapolis, and FOXSports.com wrote that a package including Ellsbury and Clay Buchholz -- who would essentially be replaced by Cameron and Lackey, respectively -- could pull it off. Like a Holliday or Bay signing, however, the possibility of this happening remains a long shot. Another option could be to trade for Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera, but he's a lot more expensive with six years and $126 million left on his contract.
Option C: The more likely scenario is that they go after somebody like Adrian Beltre to help out the corner infield. To do that, they'd have to successfully trade third baseman Mike Lowell first. The Rangers' rejection of a Lowell-for-Max Ramirez trade on Saturday night after finding out Lowell needed surgery on his right thumb gave Boston a gluttony in the corner infield it did not want. Lowell's surgery is expected to keep him out of action for six to eight weeks, but he's expected to be ready by the early part of Spring Training. If he proves his health, and the Red Sox can trade him, it could open the door for acquiring Beltre. The two-time Gold Glove Award winner would improve the defense. And though he hit just eight homers in 2009, he averaged 27 per season the previous seven years, so he could potentially add some much-needed power.
At this point, neither the Red Sox nor the Yankees figure to be in on high-priced free agents, but nothing is thrown out the window when these two clubs are in competition.
So, let the ultimate offseason blinking contest ensue.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.