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Deep in his heart of hearts, in his soul of souls, in his auras of auras, Theo Epstein must still be comfortable with his decision to sign Mike Lowell to a three year, $37.5 million dollar contract after the 2007 season, even though at this point it may look like something he regrets.
Of course, there are things Theo regrets, or should, more than the Lowell contract. In no particular order: Julio Lugo, JD Drew, Edgar Renteria, his Hot Stove Cool Music performances.
(Between Theo and Peter Gammons they have covered the spectrum of uncomfortable white guys rocking out on stage. Theo has this blank stare and wooden disposition while Gammons is too into it to realize how off key he is.)
Knowing that the Philadelphia Phillies were about to formally offer Lowell a four-year, $50 million dollar deal, Theo was probably more than a little surprised to see Lowell take the hometown discount. Not to say that it wasn’t a good faith offer by the Red Sox, but having set their price for Lowell and seeing it usurped they were ready to bid him adieu.
Theo will not be swayed, but the Red Sox front office is keenly aware of fan perception and jettisoning the reigning World Series MVP would not have sat well in the Bay State, so the Red Sox played it up in the press that they had made their best and last offer.
Again, not that it wasn’t a good faith offer. Look at the way Theo handled the Jason Bay situation. The Sox were not interested. They didn’t make an offer. No head games. Just see ya later Jason Bay. Simple as that. I compare the Lowell signing to the Johnny Damon situation. The only difference is that Damon took the better contract.
The Phillies were closing in. The New York Yankees were making rumblings about signing Lowell and converting him to first base. The Los Angeles Dodgers were making noise.
Theo wishes Lowell was one of those teams’ problems now but the Sox had a dearth of other options at the time. Moving Kevin Youkilis to third base and signing a free agent first baseman was possible but the free agent class, with the likes of Travis Lee, Erubiel Durazo and Scott Hatteberg was underwhelming. They could have brought back Kevin Millar, but they decided to Cowboy Down.
Theo could have signed Alex Rodriguez, as the Red Sox were one of the first to know he was opting out of his contract because it was, you know, announced by his agent Scott Boras during the waning moments of the Red Sox 2007 World Series victory, but we’ve been down that road before.
You think Theo would like to go back in time “Lost” style and course correct so the Lowell contract is never consummated? Probably, but it was the best move at the time.
Back in the 2007-2008 off-season Theo saw the future of his infield. Youkilis had a lot of promise but was still unproven as a middle of the order hitter. Theo also had a struggling shortstop and a rookie second baseman.
They needed stability. They needed a steady glove and a presence at the plate and in the clubhouse. Terry Francona was a huge proponent of resigning Lowell for these very reasons. Theo agreed, but apparently only for the absolute minimum amount of time commitment.
Obviously, Lowell wasn’t inking any one year deals, and a two year deal only means you go right back into a contract year the following season. So three years it was. Theo felt he could probably get out of that contract at any point, although he is now finding out that may not be the case.
But consider the flip side: How do you think Mike Lowell feels?
There is nothing promised in professional sports. Drew Bledsoe learned that harsh reality and it has set in for Mike Lowell as well.
Management will always use whatever they need to maximize their position. Including playing on the emotional chords of a player, like they did with Lowell, who felt so beloved in Boston that he gave up an extra $12.5 million to stay with the Sox full well knowing that, to them, money is no object and they could cut bait any time they wanted, barring injury. Which is where we find ourselves at this moment.
Also consider that without Lowell, the Phillies won the 2008 World Series and made it back in 2009. Lowell, paired with Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins would have made Philadelphia even more of a powerhouse and may have pushed them over the hump to become back to back Series winners.
What must really salt and pepper Lowell’s goatee is that he isn’t even given a chance to be a contributor but the 35 year old shortstop who had an aberration of a career year last year is. And a 37 year old center fielder that averages 159 strikeouts a year is. And a third baseman who, albeit gifted defensively, is still living off a PED influenced career year back in 2004 with a career OBP of .325 is?
Lowell has done more for the Red Sox than any of these three signings will ever do, and you can throw in JD Drew as well, the $75 million dollar grand slam notwithstanding.
Loyalty is a one way street in professional sports. A lot of Red Sox fans are probably thinking “Screw Mike Lowell. I would love to sit on the bench while making $12.5 million,” but that is missing the point.
Sports franchises like to represent themselves as some kind of quasi-public service but only when it is in their best interest. They want publicly funded stadiums and infrastructure and tax breaks and then they want to charge $50 for a bleacher seat (because that is all those Green Monster seats are) and they want fans to say “thank you sir, may I have another?”
But when the time comes to pay the employees all we hear is them crying poverty, preaching restraint and asking the player for loyalty while offering none in return. Basically the player must sell out, because in the end money is all they will end up with. This is why Mike Lowell probably wishes he was in Philadelphia right now.
I don’t know if Lowell has ever seen “North Dallas Forty” but after the way his loyalty and commitment to the Red Sox were spit back in his face I’m sure he wants to walk into Theo’s office John Matuszak style and scream “That’s just what I mean you bastard. Every time I call it a game you call it a business and every time I call it a business you call it a game!”