All in: Sox a finalist for Teixeira
Epstein won't confirm offer, but is aggressive on players club likes
LAS VEGAS -- Despite the Red Sox's status as a big-market team, general manager Theo Epstein pointed out Wednesday that during his six years at the helm, the club has only twice doled out free-agent contracts of more than $40 million.
Don't be so sure, however, that a bold exception won't be made in the coming days or weeks. The Red Sox remain fully in on slugger Mark Teixeira and appear to have emerged with the Orioles, Angels and Nationals as the four finalists for the first baseman's services.
And if Teixeira does come to Boston, it will far exceed the $103.1 million the Red Sox invested in Daisuke Matsuzaka or the $70 million pact for J.D. Drew, which have thus far been the biggest pacts handed out in Epstein's regime.
The Nationals have already made an offer of eight years at $160 million. The other three finalists have all made their proposals as well, according to agent Scott Boras.
"We've received a number of offers, and we've gone back and forth with the teams on a few occasions, and we're moving in directions of completion, but I can't tell you a time frame," said Boras.
Epstein, citing team policy, again declined to publicly confirm his interest in Teixeira. But he did speak in broad terms about his current willingness to be aggressive for the right player.
"We're being aggressive, really aggressive on players that we like," said Epstein.
It's going to take all that and more to bring home Teixeira, a 28-year-old switch-hitter who gets on base, hits for power and plays elite defense.
On the same day the Yankees all but locked up CC Sabathia to a seven-year, $161 million contract, it was natural to wonder if the Red Sox are likely to sign a marquee free agent this winter.
"I think there's a chance of it," Epstein said. "There's definitely a chance that we don't. I can't tell you which [player], eight, 10, 12 years from now would have been better for the organization. But players that we like and think can help us, we're going to try to sign to numbers that we think are reasonable and help us going forward and help us with our foundation. If we get them, great. If we don't, then we'll move on."
With Sabathia bound for New York, A.J. Burnett seemingly well above Boston's price range and Manny Ramirez clearly not walking back through that Fenway Park door, Teixeira appears to be the one elite free agent the Sox are targeting.
"It's interesting, since we've been here, since I've been GM, we've really only given two free agents more than $40 million," said Epstein. "I know there's a perception that we're a superpower, and we probably are in some ways financially. But [aside from Drew and Matsuzaka], we haven't given out huge free-agent contracts, and I think that's been partly responsible for our success, because I think we focus more on long-term building and building from within.
"It doesn't mean we won't do it. Under the right circumstances, we will. But it's not exactly our M.O. It's not something we rely upon. We prefer to spread it out a little bit, maintain flexibility and build a strong foundation of young players and move from there."
Teixeira, however, is someone the Red Sox view as a unique player, one who could help anchor the lineup for the better part of the next decade.
The question is just how much the Red Sox are willing to spend. Epstein's strategy is always to set a value on a player and generally stick to it. Could there be some wiggle room in a rare case?
"Sometimes things are fluid," Epstein said. "But you can't lose your discipline just because things are a little bit fluid. We've tried, through the years, to set a value for a player and try to sign a player for that value. If it moves beyond that value point, then you walk away. I think it's served us well. Some of the best decisions we've made, at times we've walked away and gained Draft picks or preserved Draft picks and turned those resources into young players and continued to build our foundation.
"Other times we've landed the player, and that's turned out to work really well, too. Sometimes these things can sound a bit arbitrary when you're talking about a lot of money, but there has to be a process behind it. We'll stick to that process and you have to be comfortable with either result."
Clearly, the Red Sox have done plenty of due diligence when it comes to Teixeira. Boras said that Teixeira has met with "all the teams that he's involved with and with ownership."
Assuming the financial offers are relatively equal, it is going to come down to what is most important to Teixeira.
If geography is of primary importance, the Angels will be all but eliminated and the Orioles and Nationals will be preferable to the Maryland native over the Red Sox.
But if playing for a perennial contender is what Teixeira wants most, the Red Sox and Angels immediately vault to the top. Perhaps Boston's offer is the best combination of geography and winning.
"There are considerations of his family, the economics and winning," Boras said. "All those are in the evaluation of what he wants to do."
Though the Red Sox are seemingly set at the corners (Kevin Youkilis and Mike Lowell) and designated hitter (David Ortiz) for 2009, Epstein tends to look at the market in a much broader scope.
Teixeira could represent Boston's best chance to get an elite slugger in the coming years. With the exception of Matt Holliday, next year's class appears to lack a star run producer.
"It's really important to focus on the big picture," Epstein said. "You want to look as broadly as you can at the free-agent and trade market and your roster composition and payroll structure. [You need to] look at the large trends in the game and the economy and things like that, and [you have to] try to bring the big picture together and try to apply it to a specific situation. If you only look at what's in front of your face, it's hard to execute long-term strategy."
Before long, it will become apparent if Teixeira is a centerpiece of that strategy, not to mention the Boston lineup.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.