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Red Sox keep reeling in the bargains

Red Sox keep reeling in the bargains

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The New York Yankees did their shopping for 2009 at around Christmastime, and they went for the most expensive items available.

When they were done, they had spent $423.5 million on three free-agent players -- first baseman Mark Teixeira ($180 million), left-handed pitcher CC Sabathia ($161 million) and right-handed pitcher A.J. Burnett ($82.5 million).

The Yankees' buying spree is a startling contrast to the approach taken by their archrival, the Boston Red Sox.

The Red Sox have been hunting high and low for bargains, and on Saturday they announced that they had added relief pitcher Takashi Saito to their shopping cart.

Saito signed a one-year contract with a club option for 2010 and, according to FOXSports.com, the guaranteed money is in the area of $1.5 million and $2.5 million.

In a conference call to announce the signing, Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein clearly indicated that he had landed one of the gems of the offseason.

"We are thrilled to have signed Takashi Saito," said Epstein. "He has done an amazing job. When you look at his performance, Takashi has been as good as anyone [as a closer] in baseball."

The statistics would support Epstein's viewpoint. During the past three years as the closer for the Dodgers, Saito has averaged 60 games and 27 saves a season.

Saito has everything you look for in a closer -- great composure and command, with a breaking pitch that seems all but unhittable at times.

Even though he was bothered by an elbow problem last season, Saito pitched in 45 games and recorded 18 saves, with an ERA of 2.49. In 47 innings, he yielded only 40 hits and 16 walks, with an amazing 60 strikeouts. Opposing batters hit just .226 against him.

The Red Sox have one of the game's great closers in Jonathan Papelbon, but they now have a pitcher who has been as dominating as Papelbon over the last three years.

And just how did the Red Sox land someone who could be a valuable member of their bullpen for such a low price?

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It all seems to be part of a well-thought-out game plan in which the team is looking for quality performers who have come off injury-plagued seasons but have reputations as strong character individuals.

The Dodgers could have held on to Saito by offering him arbitration, but they apparently had concerns about his health and elected to make him a free agent.

During the conference call on Saturday, Saito said through an interpreter that he felt great and that he was confident about his health going into the 2009 season. Epstein added that the Red Sox performed extensive tests and were comfortable with the results.

Saito joins the cast that Epstein has assembled of late, joining former No. 1 starters Brad Penny (Dodgers) and John Smoltz (Atlanta), and outfielders Rocco Baldelli and Mark Kotsay.

If you add up the guaranteed dollars of the five players, it would total about $15 million, and that's considerably below the annual salaries of the Yankees' Teixeira and Sabathia.

A number of things have to go right for the new members of the Red Sox if they want to regain their top performance levels, but even if one or two members of the group come through, it will be a strong statement for those shoppers who always are looking for closeout sales.

Fred Claire was a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1969-98, serving the team as executive vice president and general manager. His book "Fred Claire: My 30 Years in Dodger Blue" was published by SportsPublishing LLC. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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