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When the Red Sox signed John Lackey to an $82.5 million contract following the 2009 season, they had their sights set on establishing a trio of aces for the next several years. Lackey would be joining a rotation with Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, giving the Red Sox a team strength in pitching. However, things haven’t translated for Lackey in Boston. In 2010 the Red Sox missed the playoffs, finishing 89-73, with Lackey going 14-11 with a 4.40 ERA, his highest since 2004 with Anaheim. This last season, Lackey’s ERA was 6.41 and his 12-12 record was not at all reflective of the pitcher the Sox needed him to be.
His relationship with the media and his off-the-field issues with clubhouse drinking have all contributed to a tremendous amount of disapproval from New England. As a result, there have been discussions following this season of the Red Sox possibly moving Lackey, who is owed $45.75 million over the next three seasons. The biggest problem is of course finding a suitor for 33-year-old.
Trading Lackey would be difficult because of the ramifications of the contract. It’s likely that the Red Sox would still have to pay a large portion of the remaining contract in order to even begin discussions of a trade, meaning they would effectively be paying a team to take him off the Boston roster. This would make nearly every team with a need for starting pitching an option, as even the small market teams could afford to add him in exchange for a prospect or two.
An opportunity such as this may be arising in San Diego, where the Padres have been having internal discussions about bringing in the pitcher. As a small market team, they would need Boston to pay nearly all of Lackey’s contract over the three years, but it may be worthwhile to both the Red Sox and Lackey. Former Angels pitching coach Bud Black is now the manager of the Padres, a man of whom Lackey worked with in his time in Los Angeles. Petco Park is one of the friendliest for pitchers because of its large dimensions, which should help significantly considering Lackey has surrendered 38 home runs in two seasons in Boston. There could also be a great comfort level for Lackey in San Diego, a team with little to no pressure from the media and a city back on the west coast where Lackey was successful for years.
Of course if the Padres’ interest level lessens, the Sox could look at their other options for dealing with Lackey. The first would be to seek out a trade for another major leaguer with a large contract weighing on his team. This idea wouldn’t change the money because of both contracts, but would instead provide an opportunity for a fresh start for both players. Given the Red Sox need for help in right field and in the rotation after the departure of Lackey, there are a couple of different possibilities for this type of deal.
Both Chicago teams have high priced outfielders who could benefit from a trip to Fenway. The Cubs, a team that has more large contracts than Lackey has fried chicken, could look into moving Alfonso Soriano. A possible target for right field at Fenway, Soriano is owed $18 million over the next three seasons, and certainly has enough pop in his bat to be a significant upgrade over J.D. Drew, who will likely leave Boston in free agency. The other option is Alex Rios from the White Sox, whose contract extends to 2015 and is worth upwards of $12 million each year.
Unfortunately, team interest would be the biggest problem here, as neither the Cubs or White Sox appear to be in need of a pitcher like Lackey, especially with the near completion of Theo Epstein joining the Cubs. Also, a city like Chicago could parallel the intensity of Boston, and Lackey himself is far better off on the west coast. A trade to San Diego is the best case scenario for all parties involved.
The John Lackey era in Boston needs to come to an end.