BASEBALL NOTES;Sox should take a left-hand turn

Cliff Lee has been traded twice during the past two seasons, and
this winter the 32-year-old left-hander will be the most highly
sought-after free agent pitcher.

Now that trading away young talent has been taken out of the
equation, shouldn’t the Red
Sox be all-in on Lee?

The prevailing wisdom around baseball is that the Yankees will
do whatever it takes to haul in Lee, and that if there is any
competition on the horizon, it will come from Lee’s latest home,
the Texas Rangers. That makes a lot of sense and, in the end, is
the likely outcome. Still, isn’t the time ripe for some creative,
outside-the-box thinking from the Red
Sox when it comes to improving
themselves by signing Lee?

Given the
Sox’ relatively flush position with
starters – 26-year-old stars Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz plus
underachieving righties John Lackey and Josh Beckett all are locked
up through the 2014 season – you can see why they likely will speak
with Lee and leave it at that. That will leave it to the Yankees or
Rangers to sign him to some mammoth, CC Sabathia-like deal.

After all, the Red
Sox badly need an outfielder, and
they surely will be happy just to sign either Carl Crawford or
Jayson Werth to a hefty deal, then add a corner infielder and a
reliever.

That’s the safe way of looking at it. But even though it will
cost them a lot of money – and no young prospects, remember –
stealing a page from the Yankees’ playbook and going hard after Lee
makes a lot of sense for the
Sox.

After the 2008 season, the Red
Sox’ courtship of Sabathia virtually
was a formality since they were well aware the Yankees would beat
any amount they offered. That hard truth was softened by their
backup plan to lock up first baseman Mark Teixeira later that
offseason. Of course, the Yankees paid obscene money to get the
trio of Sabathia, Teixeira and A.J. Burnett, and the
Sox have been trying to find a
substitute for Teixeira ever since.

Before the Yankees’ interest in Teixeira was unveiled – this was
a big surprise to the Red
Sox, if you recall – there was not
a crying need at that position, with Nick Swisher already on the
roster.

Look how that turned out for the Yankees.

Wouldn’t an out-of-left field move on Lee, combined with
Crawford or Werth, be a tremendous play for the Red
Sox? The splash would be enormous,
but the impact of Lee on the
Sox rotation would be even bigger.
The Red
Sox have an understandable aversion
to entering bidding wars with the Yankees, but some wars are worth
fighting. Even though the Red
Sox probably are not up for this
fight, the prospect of seeing Sabathia, Teixeira and Lee in six
series every summer for the next couple of years might lead to a
compulsive yearning to reach for the gunpowder.

It’s a money thing

For those people brushing off John Henry’s purchase of Liverpool
FC as having nothing to do with the Red
Sox, think again. This was far more
than a trivial pursuit by a wealthy owner to land another bauble
for the expanding New England Sports Venture conglomerate.

Although it appears as if the Red
Sox are insulated from the globe’s
economic strife, Henry does not need to look only at the declining
NESN ratings from this past season to understand that business
bubbles burst and markets soften. Henry knows a thing or two about
trends, and his move for Liverpool, combined with previous moves
for Roush Fenway Racing and the Fenway Sports Group, can be viewed
as a sound diversification strategy that your favorite financial
adviser would push for your own portfolio.

”It’s sports, but it’s a business, and this is business
diversification,” said Maury Brown, president of
Bizofbaseball.com. ”If it’s run correctly and collaterized
properly and doesn’t go into debt, it buffers them in case Red
Sox revenues should fall.”

Besides the insurance aspect of the move, the potential to
increase the Red
Sox brand globally certainly is
another dividend. But there is another way the move can help, not
hurt, the Red
Sox.

Liverpool FC has enough financial difficulties of its own that
will demand a great deal of attention from whatever new management
team Henry brings in, but there always is the potential to plow
increased NESV revenues back into the Red
Sox. That money likely would not be
for payroll purposes, since the team would run up against the
luxury tax, but there is nothing preventing the
Sox from using non-baseball
revenues on other areas, such as international signing bonuses,
scouting budgets, international academies and draft bonuses.

The move is significant, and it is telling that team president
and CEO Larry Lucchino sent out word in a press release that it
”will not divert our resources or focus on the job at hand –
winning a third World Series for the loyal members of Red
Sox Nation.”

The plan by Henry and Tom Werner is not ordinary at all. The
other 29 teams are free to employ as much non-baseball revenues as
their ownership group wants to use. Some owners use profits from
their own independent businesses to support their team, other
owners rely, to an excessive extent at times, on MLB’s
revenue-sharing plan to turn a profit.

”The other 29 teams are not reacting in so many directions” as
the Red
Sox are, Brown said. ”This is
different, and it is a matter of opportunity because of Liverpool’s
state.”

NESV’s opportunity is a golden one, and the Red
Sox stand to gain from it.

Going Gonzo?

Another path for self-improvement the Red
Sox might take this winter will be
to re-engage the Padres in trade talks for Adrian Gonzalez. The
Padres are expected to listen, but with Gonzalez making just $5.5
million next season and the Padres’ successful 2010 season leading
them to believe they could only make themselves weaker without him,
the pricetag in terms of talent would be enormous.

How big? For example, one executive said a package of outfielder
Jacoby Ellsbury, infielder Jed Lowrie and first base prospect
Anthony Rizzo would not be enough. Would the Red
Sox even consider such a deal in
the first place? Assuming they would and it would not be
sufficient, the names of starter Casey Kelly or shortstop Jose
Iglesias will start to get mentioned.

That is when the Red
Sox are expected to say ”pass,”
but having both Kelly and Iglesias in the Arizona Fall League right
now only gives the Red
Sox and Padres more food for
thought.

Bombers a good bet

The folks at RationalPastime.com have been running postseason
odds. Using computer simulation techniques, they gave the Yankees,
then the Phillies, the greatest chances of winning the World
Series. This was before the respective LCS began, but the Yankees
were given a 58.3 percent chance to beat the Rangers, with the
Phillies given a 54.4 percent shot to beat the Giants.

Overall, before the LCS began, the Yankees had a 33.8 percent
chance to win it all, the Phillies were at 25.8 percent and the
Giants and Rangers were basically tied at 20.2 and 20.1 percent,
respectively.

– msilverman@bostonherald.com

GRAPHIC: GENERAL LEE

The Yankees have good reason to be concerned about facing
Rangers starter Cliff Lee tomorrow night in Game 3 of the American
League Championsip Series. Lee is more than merely good. He’s been
great in his first seven career postseason starts, and two of his
six postseason wins came against the Yankees in last year’s World
Series.

Here’s a look ar how his first seven postseason starts stack up
against the first seven of a few other starters renowned for the
postseason performance:

W-L ERA IP K BB WHIP CG SHO

Cliff Lee 6-0 1.44 56-1/3 54 6 0.781 3 0

Bob Gibson 6-1 1.71 63 74 14 0.888 6 2

Sandy Koufax 4-3 0.95 57 61 11 0.825 4 2

Curt Schilling 4-1 1.70 58-1/3 58 14 0.874 4 2

Christy Matthewson 4-2 0.83 65 35 3 0.785 6 3

John Smoltz 4-0 1.98 50 45 14 1.100 1 1

Nolan Ryan 4-3 2.82 44-2/3 46 13 0.963 1 0

Whitey Ford 4-2 2.96 45-2/3 32 13 1.226 2 0

Catfish Hunter 4-3 2.89 46-2/3 31 16 1.114 1 0

Source: Baseball-Reference.com

COMPILED BY MICHAEL SILVERMAN

STAFF GRAPHIC