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Why the Red Sox Should Sign John Lackey

Jason Bay is casting off for free agent waters and the Red Sox decided not to pick up Alex Gonzalez’s $6 million option for 2010. Thus, the Sox are left with two gaping holes in their starting lineup.

But Boston wunderkind Theo Epstein apparently had another position on his mind at the GM meetings last week in Chicago. Various outlets have reported Epstein met with LA/Anaheim ace John Lackey’s agent, expressing preliminary interest in this offseason’s top free agent starter.

Given Boston’s aforementioned holes in left and short and the fact the Sox already have a five-man rotation signed for 2010, news of the Lackey tire kick raised a few eyebrows. Doesn’t Boston have more pressing needs?

The simple answer is yes. The more thoughtful answer is: Boston has the need and the money to sign Lackey (as well as Bay and a shortstop), and doing so would make the Red Sox a much better team in 2010.

The Need

Tim “Everlast” Wakefield agreed to a new two-year $5 million deal with the Sox last week, negating Boston’s unprecedented, perpetual $4 million club option. On paper, the deal seemed to round out Boston’s starting rotation for next season:

  • Josh Beckett
  • Jon Lester
  • Daisuke Matsuzaka
  • Clay Buchholz
  • Tim Wakefield

If you can look at that rotation and honestly say the Sox don’t need another starter, you need to take off those rose colored glasses.

Wakefield is 43 years old, coming off a season in which he missed two months due to back problems, and recently had surgery to repair a herniated disk. There is no question he has proven himself an invaluable asset to Boston’s staff, and he could very well be a key contributor in 2010. But counting on Wake taking the ball every fifth day—at his age and coming off back surgery—is about as realistic as counting on Congress to pass a healthcare bill before we ring in the New Year.

Then there is Matsuzaka, the proud owner of a 4-6, 5.76 ERA, 1.87 WHIP, 12-start 2009 season. Daisuke looked sharp when he came off the disabled list in September, going 3-1 in four starts while giving up a total of six earned runs. But after his horrific 1-5, 8.43 ERA start to the season, Matsuzaka will enter 2010 with more question marks than the Riddler.

The current number four starter on paper, Clay Buchholz, is still finding his way as a starter, and has never pitched more than 92 innings in the bigs. As promising a player as he is (7-4, 4.21 ERA in ’09), we really don’t know what to expect from Buchholz in 2010.

Having said all of that, is there still any doubt the Sox need another solid starter? Lackey, who is Josh Beckett’s eerily similar statistical twin (see below), would be a huge boost to the staff and allow the Sox to use Wakefield in long relief, spot starts, and as a solid insurance policy.

There is a definite need, and Lackey would more than adequately fill it.

Quiz: Looking at the career numbers, can you tell which starter is Beckett?

Pitcher A

Pitcher B

102-71

106-68

3.81 ERA

3.79 ERA

1,501 IP

1,401 IP

1,201 SO

1,330 SO

441 BB

426 BB

151 HR

151 HR

Lackey, Pitcher A, is a year-and-a-half older than Beckett, is another big, workhorse Texan, and would make Boston’s one-through-three starting rotation the best in baseball.

The Money

A rundown of Boston’s current 40-man roster, including projected arbitration signings, puts the team’s salary at roughly $121 million. The threshold for MLB’s luxury tax in 2010 is $170 million. The Red Sox have been willing to reach, and even slightly cross, the luxury tax line in the past, and if they hope to compete with the $220 million Yankees next year, they will have to do so again.

That gives Boston roughly $50 million to spend this year to accomplish three things:

  1. Sign Jason Bay.
  2. Sign a shortstop.
  3. Sign a starter.

Thirty-five-year-old Bobby Abreu set the marker early in this offseason for outfielders when he quickly inked a two-year, $19 million contract to stay in LA/Anaheim. That likely puts Bay in the $16 to $18 million per season range, depending on how many bidders there are for the left fielder’s services. Signing Bay is Boston’s top priority.

That would leave the Sox with roughly $32 million to fill their other holes with free agents. There are some interesting names at shortstop, including Marco Scutaro, Miguel Tejada, and Bobby Crosby, but they all come with serious question marks: Scutaro played head-and-shoulders above his career averages in a contract season; Tejada is 36 and a shell of his former juiced self; and Crosby has never come close to living up to the hype.

The options leave me thinking the Sox will and should sign Alex Gonzalez for less than the club’s $6.5 million option, and ink him to a two-year, $10 million deal. Hey, if it ain’t broke…

Thinking out loud: the free agent options at second base, including Ronnie Belliard, Mark DeRosa, Orlando Hudson, and Placido Polanco, are much more attractive than the free agent options at short. Would the Sox be willing to move gold glove second baseman Dustin Pedroia back to his minor league, shortstop home?

Back to Lackey. After signing Bay (knock on wood) and a shortstop, the Sox will have plenty of cash to throw at the right hander. Unfortunately, they’ll need it, thanks to the ridiculous, five-year, $85 million contract the Yankees gave AJ Burnett in ’09.

And that’s the biggest red flag that comes with Lackey. He’s earned a big payday, but thanks to the contracts the Yankees dole out like king-sized candy bars on Halloween, Lackey is in position to command a lengthy, $17- to $18-million annual contract. And yes, the Yanks will surely be in the bidding for Lackey’s services.

To bring Lackey to Boston, the Red Sox will have to give the pitcher an enormous contract. They can and they should. And they could very well be preparing to do just that. In case you didn’t notice, Boston just raised ticket prices on what is already the highest average ticket in MLB.

About Sharkey

I was 11 years old when the ball scooted through Buckner's wickets, a moment that is laser-etched in my mind: In my living room, on the floor in front of the TV, ready to burst as the Sox needed just one more out, one more strike, to become World Series champs. Mets players sat with slumped shoulders and dejected looks in the dugout. Even the scoreboard operator recognized the game, and the series, was over, posting on the jumbotron: Congratulations to the Boston Red Sox, 1986 World Series Champions. "They did it!" I said, unable to contain myself. "The Sox won it all!" My father, sitting behind me on the couch with a furrowed brow, knew better. "It's not over yet." And so it was. Having watched the Sox, Celts, and Pats for the past three decades, I truly feel like I've seen it all. I hope to bring that type of perspective as I write about the three teams I love.

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Discussion

5 comments for “Why the Red Sox Should Sign John Lackey”

  1. Why the Red Sox Should Sign John Lackey: Jason Bay is casting off for free agent waters and the Red Sox decided not… http://bit.ly/2d0OCD

    Posted by Sports of Boston | November 18, 2009, 12:41 am
  2. You’re right about one thing. The Red Sox will never beat the Yankees in spending money. It’s because they (1) don’t have as much of it and (2) have different philosophies in the front office. The Yankees have been spending countless of millions of dollars on veterans and still that philosophy has gotten them only one championship in nine years.

    The Red Sox do it right. They sign low-risk contracts and will only spend big time money on a player that is in his 20′s and has shown that he can produce in the majors. They spend a lot of their money in development and scouting and it shows with players like Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Jon Lester, Daniel Bard, Clay Buchholz and Jacoby Ellsbury. They have rebuilt a once-barren farm system and now have a great foundation of young talent that gives them a great deal of flexibility.
    Lackey will be 36 years old at the end of this contract and he is already has shown arm troubles the last two seasons so I doubt the Red Sox are going to pay him $17 million over five years. I’d rather have them sign Rich Harden or Ben Sheets to a low-risk one year contract and focus on extending Josh Beckett through 2014. The Red SOx aren’t desparate enough to pony up crazy money for a top of the line starter just yet.

    Posted by George | November 18, 2009, 1:55 pm
  3. Oh god I hope they don’t. I can’t stand him and his ugly mug.

    Posted by Dave | November 18, 2009, 2:07 pm
  4. George:

    “They sign low-risk contracts and will only spend big time money on a player that is in his 20s…”

    Recent signings by this front office suggest otherwise, my friend:

    JD Drew (at 32 signed for five years, $70 million)
    Julio Lugo (at 31 signed for four years, $36 million)
    Edgar Renteria (turned 30 the year he signed his four year, $40 million deal)
    Curt Schilling (as part of the trade with the DBacks, the Sox extended the 38-year-old’s $13 million contract three years)

    Jason Bay is 31 and will be seeking a long-term, $15-$18M annual deal. Are you also suggesting the Sox shouldn’t sign him?

    The Sox would be well within their means spending up to the $170 M luxury tax threshold. In fact, they can fill all their holes, add Lackey, and still be well below that figure. They can do it and they should.

    Posted by Sharkey | November 18, 2009, 2:45 pm
  5. There is a pattern with all of those signing that you mentioned and that is there was a real pressing need for those guys at the time of their signings.
    2004- Red Sox needed a #2 after Pedro and still hadn’t won a WS
    2005- First time the Red Sox had a need at SS since 1996
    2006- After Renteria failed Sox needed to answer with another signing (this is the only one I think they seriously overpaid probably due to panic in the front office)
    2007- Red Sox saw the demise of Trot Nixon in 2006 and finished out of first or second in the AL East for the first time since 1997
    I wouldn’t necessarily call John Lackey a pressing need because while the Red Sox staff does have some questions, I don’t think they need to go as far as spending near $100 million solving that problem. They would be better off getting one of the lesser pitchers like Rich Harden, Ben Sheets, etc. for cheaper dollars and focus on extending their current ace, Josh Beckett, past the upcoming 2010 season.
    As for Bay, I am not as big a fan of this guy as the majority is, but there is an obvious need for a big bat in this lineup so if we cannot obtain an Adrian Gonzalez or Miguel Cabrera then I would definitely be for paying Jason Bay $16-$18 million a year.

    Posted by George | November 18, 2009, 3:41 pm

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