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Reports: Cliff Lee heading back to the Phillies

12.14.10 at 12:20 am ET
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In a startling turn of events, free agent pitcher Cliff Lee has a deal in place to return to the Phillies. The news was first reported by MLB.com, which cited multiple industry sources. According to SI.com, Lee’s deal would be worth $120 million over five years, while FoxSports.com is also reporting there is a vesting option for a sixth year that would pay the pitcher $27.5 million, raising the potential worth of the deal to $135 million. There is also reportedly a $12.5 million buyout in the sixth season.

The deal was shocking in that Lee had been viewed by many in the industry as a mercenary who was intent on extracting as much money as possible from his first foray into free agency. But the Phillies did not make the most substantial offer in terms of either dollars or years. The Yankees, according to several reports, had an offer in the vicinity of seven years and $150 million on the table. ESPN.com’s Buster Olney reported (via twitter) that the offer was for six years and $138 million (a $23 million AAV, the same that Yankees ace CC Sabathia is receiving), with a seventh-year player option for $16 million that would have brought the total to $154 million ($22 million per year).

But Lee instead was persuaded to return to a city where he enjoyed his first taste of the postseason in 2009. That year, Lee — whom the Phillies acquired in a trade from the Indians earlier in that season — emerged as a dominant October force. But he was traded after the season in a three-team deal that shipped the 2008 AL Cy Young winner to the Mariners and that landed Roy Halladay in Philadelphia (where Halladay went on to win the 2010 NL Cy).

After finishing 2010 with the Rangers, Lee reportedly was offered more years and dollars to play in Texas than Philadelphia. But the appeal of the City of Brotherly Love — and the opportunity to pitch in a loaded rotation that will feature Lee, Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels – apparently proved sufficiently compelling to persuade Lee to return to Philadelphia.

In the last three years, Lee is 48-25 with a 2.98 ERA while bouncing from the Indians to the Phillies to the Mariners and then the Rangers. He is 7-2 with a 2.13 ERA in the postseason, with a remarkable 80-to-8 strikeout-to-walk rate.

The Yankees made the left-hander the centerpiece of their offseason efforts. But in a rare turn of events, New York failed to land its primary free agent target. Making matters worse for the Yankees is the fact that this offseason’s other top free agents who could have offered the team an upgrade — Jayson Werth and Carl Crawford — are no longer available, having signed with the Nationals and Red Sox, respectively.

Read More: Cliff Lee, Phillies, Rangers, Yankees

Adrian Beltre to the Rangers: A consolation prize for the Red Sox?

12.13.10 at 12:37 pm ET
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According to ESPN’s Karl Ravech, the Texas Rangers are hot on the trail of free agent Adrian Beltre, suggesting Cliff Lee might be leaning toward signing with the Yankees. In terms of where Beltre could end up, this would be best-case scenario for the Red Sox. If the third baseman did end up with the Rangers, the Red Sox would secure Texas’ first-round selection in next June’s draft, the 26th overall. The only teams currently with unprotected first-round picks slotted lower than Texas are Colorado, Toronto, St. Louis, and San Diego. None figure to be in the market to ink Beltre, the Red Sox’ last-remaining ‘Type A’ free agent.

The two teams most mentioned when it has come to possible landing spots for Beltre — the Angels and Oakland — both have their first-round picks (No. 17 and 18, respectively) protected.

If Beltre does join up with the Rangers, the Red Sox would then have the No. 19 (from the Tigers for Victor Martinez) and No. 26 picks. They lost their own first-round selection (No. 24) to the Rays for signing Carl Crawford.

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Sources: Mariano Rivera initiated contact with Red Sox

12.12.10 at 11:09 pm ET
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According to multiple major league sources, Mariano Rivera’s representatives were the ones to initiate contact with the Red Sox in an attempt to get the team interested in the closer. While the Red Sox would ultimately make a two-year offer to Rivera, according to sources the team’s expectation was that he would be returning to the Yankees. The 41-year-old ultimately re-signed with New York, securing a two-year, $30 million deal.

While there was some thought that because of the offer to Rivera the Red Sox were prepared to non-tender closer Jonathan Papelbon, separate sources suggest the Sox were never inclined to let Papelbon become a free agent this offseason. In the short-term, the team valued the reliever’s presence in the back-end of its bullpen, while long-term it coveted  any draft picks that might come the Sox’ way if Papelbon were to sign elsewhere in free agency next year. The Sox’ closer is arbitration-eligible for a third time, and is heading into the final season of being controlled by the Sox.

The current system allows teams to gain draft picks for players viewed as ‘Type A’ or ‘Type B’ free agents if those players are offered arbitration by their clubs, and then sign with another organization. There is some doubt that the new collective bargaining agreement (the current one extends through the 2011 season) will allow the process to remain intact, but many executives still believe the upcoming group of free agents will be ‘grandfathered’ in for next year’s offseason. Papelbon, who almost certainly would be a ‘Type A’ free agent, would fall into that group.

For more Red Sox coverage, see the team page at weei.com/redsox.

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Report: Red Sox made seven-year offer to Lee to drive price on Yankees

12.12.10 at 10:38 am ET
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According to the New York Daily News, the Red Sox made a seven-year offer to free agent pitcher Cliff Lee in an effort to make signing the pitcher more difficult for the Yankees. The reports states that the Sox proposal was purposely low, largely designed to keep the Yanks occupied with their pursuit of Lee while Boston concentrated on signing Carl Crawford. The source told the newspaper that the offer “wasn’t for the minimum, but may as well have been.” (To read the entire report, click here.)

A major league source did confirm to WEEI.com that part of the reasoning for the Red Sox aggressiveness with Crawford last week was so that the Sox wouldn’t get in a position where New York would have turned its attention toward Crawford after missing out on Lee.

For more Red Sox coverage, see the team page at weei.com/redsox.

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Jason Varitek doesn’t have to worry about Carl Crawford now

12.11.10 at 2:09 pm ET
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After Saturday’s press conference and the news that Jason Varitek will be coming back to Boston in 2011, the Red Sox captain doesn’t have to worry about throwing out Carl Crawford any more.

‘€œIn my opinion, he’€™s probably the most athletic player that’€™s in the game,” Varitek said. “Seeing him develop as a hitting, just being an athlete, playing more. Every year he just seems to get better. The dynamic, like Johnny Damon, his athleticism is his biggest attribute. Sometimes things happen at the plate that are so far against the book because he’€™s just an athlete. Him on the bases speaks for itself. Him running down balls speaks for itself. It’€™s a pretty interesting dynamic.’€

Crawford has been a living nightmare for Varitek and other Boston catchers, going 62-for-66 in his career in steal attempts against the Red Sox. Even the great catching coach Gary Tuck had reached his wits’ end with Crawford.

“I don’t think I’ve thrown him out. I was telling him this [Friday],” Varitek said. “Tuck and I call it a window. I get to throw a ball, boom. When I throw a ball, I know if a guy’s in that window, where’s he at, if he’s going to be safe or out. I know I’m going to get him, know it’s going to be close or I know I don’t have a chance. It’s just a certain area you vision.”

The game that haunts Varitek more than any other came on May 3, 2009 at Tropicana Field when Crawford was 6-for-6 against Varitek, tying the modern MLB record for steals in a game.

“There’s probably been three times that I’ve known I’ve thrown the ball on Carl and said, ‘I’ve got him. No, I don’t got ‘em.’ His acceleration the last 15-to-20 feet was the most different view. And I’ve seen Rickey [Henderson] slide into second. I’ve seen Ichiro [Suzuki] slide into second. I’ve seen some really good basestealers. But he was different. He’s almost accelerated to the bag more than any player from that view so it’s nice to have him.”

Turns out Varitek was underselling his skills against Crawford as he has thrown out Crawford before – once in 2004.

“Oh, I did? Good for me,” Varitek said in slamming his hand down on the conference table in celebration.

Read More: Boston Red Sox, carl crawford, gary tuck, Ichiro

With Carl Crawford on board, Terry Francona has a pretty good lineup

12.11.10 at 1:18 pm ET
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Red Sox manager Terry Francona has been asked one question over and over and over again in the last three days. What’s your lineup going to look like?

Bear in mind, this is someone who dreads being asked what his lineup is game-to-game, let alone three months in advance. His normal reply is “I don’t think I need to be making out tomorrow’s lineup today.”

But Saturday he sort of made an exception. At least in talking about it in general terms with Carl Crawford on board.

‘€œIt’€™s a place where people care about their team,” Francona said of the excitement in Boston. “That’€™s alright. They’€™re supposed to have fun with that. But you know, it’€™s probably getting a little ahead of ourselves, but it’€™s fun, they like their team and they’€™re supposed to. If they’€™re getting excited about what our batting order is in December, that bodes well for our team.’€

Then came the following question: Is he hitting second or third? That’s when Francona reverted back to his more familiar form. ‘€œYou’€™re getting a little ahead of it, but we’€™ll get it figured out,’€ he said.

He did say that he is definitely leaning toward Jacoby Ellsbury hitting leadoff.

“If he’s healthy, I still think our best lineup is with him leading off,” Francona said.

So, here’s one very popular projection of what the 2011 Red Sox will look like when they take the field at Rangers Ballpark on April 1: Ellsbury CF, Pedroia 2B, Crawford LF, Gonzalez 1B, Youkilis 3B, Ortiz DH, Drew RF, Saltalamacchia C and Scutaro SS.

The subject of the lineup did come up when Francona, Theo Epstein and management went down to meet with Crawford at his Houston-area home recently. Francona left the seven years and the $142 million to ownership.

‘€œWhen we went down to visit him, we were just kind of having fun with it,” Francona said. “You have to talk about something. I couldn’€™t offer the money, but we talked about where he was comfortable hitting in the batting order and what we’€™ll do, he was kind of telling me, ‘Hey, I can do this, I can hit first, I can hit second, I can hit third, he goes, if I do this, do you want me to do this?’

“I said, ‘What we want you to do is be yourself.’ I’€™ll sit down with Carl, I’€™ll sit down with Pedey. Obviously he’€™s going to hit somewhere in the top of the order, second or third, but we want to have some balance, as much as we can, with Adrian [Gonzalez] and Youk following, and David [Ortiz] and J.D. [Drew] there’€™s some things to think about. At the same time, if they hit, it’€™s not an issue for me. we’€™re not asking guys to do different things because they’€™re hitting in different areas. We just want them to be the players they are and we’€™ll line it up where it works best.’€ Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: adrian gonzalez, Boston Red Sox, carl crawford, Johnny Damon

Things we learned from the Carl Crawford press conference

12.11.10 at 12:41 pm ET
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The Red Sox formally announced the signing of Carl Crawford to a seven-year, $142 million deal Saturday, with the raspy-voiced outfielder (he was under the weather) joining Sox general manager Theo Epstein at the podium.

Here are some of the things we learned over the course of Crawford’s first visit to Fenway Park as a member of the Red Sox:

- The Nov. 30 meeting between Epstein, Red Sox manager Terry Francona and Crawford in Texas went a long way.

“Throughout the course of the conversation that you could see a synergy developing, that the things that were important to him were also important to us,” Epstein said.

“We talked about the hitters in the lineup that might complement him really well, we kind of hinted that we might be making another acquisition for a good left-handed first baseman,” added Epstein, referencing the acquisition of Adrian Gonzalez. “We got the sense that he kind of sat up in his chair as the meeting went on. We sensed some genuine excitement. We had a good feeling coming out of that meeting, but we also knew he had some attraction to other organizations as well.”

“[Epstein] came to Houston and made me feel like he really wanted me, and that was big for me to feel like I was going to go somewhere where the people actually wanted to have me,” Crawford said.

- Things gained steam in a hurry just before the deal was finalized late Wednesday night. According a major league source, the Angels had set a deadline for Crawford to accept their offer by 11 p.m. Wednesday. The Red Sox received a call from the agents shortly after 8 p.m. that night relaying what it would take to get a deal done. While the Red Sox’ part of the deal that included the money increased as the deadline approached, the team had always been offering the seven years.

“We’ve been working on it for a while,” Epstein said. “We really liked where we were. As far as our position in the negotiations, we felt we had made a connection with Carl at the meeting, and that he was really intrigued by being part of our lineup, especially after we traded for Adrian, that kind of piqued his interest even more. We thought we were well positioned and we were prepared to under the radar grind it out a little bit, stay involved. We felt like, in the end, he would want to stay here. Then another club put a deadline on him and we had just a couple of hours to make a decisive move.

In the end, contrary to initial reports immediately after the deal was done that the Angels’ offer was for $108 million, it is believed that the Los Angeles proposal was comparable to the one presented by the Red Sox.

“There were very competitive, if not identical, financial offers at the end,” Epstein said. “His agents asked if everybody is at the end, ultimately at the end, where do you want to be, and he said Boston. It came to quickly on another team’s deadline, so we were able to act quickly.”

- The Red Sox feel Crawford has come a long way as a hitter, especially since the outfielder introduced Epstein to the world of general managing in the big leagues with a walk-off home run in the Sox’ GM first game in his position with the Sox in 2003. (That home run came off of reliever Chad Fox on a low-inside slider.)

“He really has evolved as a player, and a hitter particularly,” Epstein said.

“At that time (in 2003), you really wanted to stay away from one spot, you wanted to stay away from down and inside to him because it wasn’t that he couldn’t handle pitches in other zones, like up and away, but there were just so much you could do with those pitches. You could sort of limit your damage by throwing those pitches in the strike zone. It was a tough, but appropriate, start to my general managing career.”

Epstein noted that Crawford, whose power throughout his career has primarily been to right field, will be working on driving the ball the other way to take advantage of Fenway’s left field wall.

“As a hitter he covers so much more of the zone that he used to,” the GM said. “That pitch away from him, he’s really comfortable hitting that ball to left field. At times, and I think this is what I think he’s going to work on this winter, really driving the ball the other way, not just slapping it the other way, but driving it.

“I do see sustainable power for him. Right field is a little bit deeper than parts of Tropicana. But when he hits them they’re no-doubters.”

- As Epstein said, the Red Sox “are not going to apologize” for the size of the contract.

“We also have to look at our situation where we’re competing within a division, especially with a team, that has significant resources, so we have to do the best to compete,” Epstein said. “I know this is a significant long contract, I don’t think this is an irresponsible spend at all. If you look at it, our discipline over the years, our reliance on young players, the acquisition of someone like Adrian Gonzalez making $6.3 million, puts us in a position to do this.

“If you look at the biggest contracts in the history of the game, you have to go really far down the list to find one that we’ve done. This is the first contract of this nature that we’ve done since I took over as GM and since this ownership has been here. We’ve tried to do others in the past and we’ve walked away because of limits, and we would have walked away because of limits on this one as well. But one contract like this one in eight or nine offseasons I don’t think irresponsible. I think it’s the aggressiveness that complements the framework of discipline of value and reliance of young players that we have.

“I’ve worked in a small market where you can’t even consider acquisitions like this, and that’s part of the equation down there. This is part of the equations for teams and and markets like ours and given that we’ve been really selective over the years in showing restraint over the years. This one made a lot of sense because of how we were positioned, adding the players of the caliber of Gonzalez and Crawford, who are 28 and 29 years old, respectively, and in their prime years. It makes a ton of sense for me. We’re not going to apologize for this.”

The breakdown for Crawford’s contract is as follows: ’11: $14 million; ’12: $19.5 million; ’13: $20 million; ’14: $20.25 million; ’15: $20.5 million; ’16: $20.75 million; ’17: $21 million.

- While Crawford said he will hit anywhere in the order the Red Sox put him, Red Sox manager Terry Francona noted that the lefty hitter will almost certainly hit somewhere near the top of the lineup, perhaps second or third.

- The Red Sox viewed Crawford as a significantly better player than Jayson Werth.

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