The Cursebusters, having done the bulk of their winter's work -- almost all before winter began officially -- are waiting for the Evil Empire to drop the other shoe, or two.
Until the Yankees get or do not get Randy Johnson in a trade and until they sign or do not sign Carlos Beltran as a free agent, the Boston Red Sox will not know how difficult their task will be in repeating as American League champions next season. But they know they will approach the task with a reconstituted starting pitching rotation and a different shortstop, but with the same old catcher, thanks to the creativity of the people who negotiated his contract.
The Red Sox have been busy this off-season, so busy that General Manager Theo Epstein had to cross the street at Fenway Park on Thursday and do some last-minute holiday shopping at a souvenir and memorabilia shop. The gifts he purchased were for others. He had already purchased gifts for himself -- Jason Varitek, Edgar Renteria, David Wells, Matt Clement, Wade Miller and Matt Mantei.
Those gifts obviously cost more than the items he bought across the street, and their purpose carries far weightier significance. With Curt Schilling, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz and others, the Red Sox will be expected to foil the Yankees once again, if not during the 162-game regular-season schedule then during the seven-game American League Championship Series.
By necessity and design, Epstein has made a series of moves the past two months that have reshaped the team that secured the first World Series championship for Boston in 86 years.
The Red Sox began the off-season with 15 free agents, nine of whom were on the World Series team. Not all were integral to the team's success, nor were all integral to the team's chances of future success. But one man on the list was a priority, and Friday the Red Sox announced an agreement with that man, catcher Jason Varitek, who was also made the team's first captain since Jim Rice.
The negotiations had been difficult, particularly over Varitek's desire for a no-trade clause. His demand created a problem for the Red Sox. Several players, most notably Ramirez, have most-favored nation clauses in their contracts, meaning that if another player receives a favorable clause, a no-trade for example, they get it, too.
The Red Sox did not want to give Varitek a no-trade clause because they did not want to trigger the clause for the others, especially Ramirez, whom they owe US$77 million in salary the next four seasons. But as necessity is the mother of invention, the Red Sox and Varitek's agent, Scott Boras, invented a new policy for the club.
If a player has been with the Red Sox for eight consecutive years, he has the right to veto a trade. Next season will be Varitek's eighth straight with the Red Sox. He will then, after one year of his four-year contract, be protected from a trade.
Ramirez has been with the Red Sox for four years. He has four more years on his contract, meaning that when he has eight consecutive years, his contract will be up and he will be a free agent.
Clever fellows, these Red Sox. They have not stopped winning since they closed out the postseason with eight consecutive victories. Or have they?
Was Pedro Martinez's departure a victory or a defeat? Some critics of Martinez, 33, believe the Red Sox will benefit from his absence. That is not the prevailing view, though. When the Red Sox were faced with losing him to the Mets, Larry Lucchino, the club president, called Fernando Cuza, Martinez's agent, several times and said, "What do we have to do to get back in?"