Red Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster may not be ready to announce his formal retirement yet, but the righty made one thing clear Sunday: He won't be around to help Boston defend its World Series championship in 2014.
Releasing a statement to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, Dempster surprisingly announced a decision to take (at least) a one-year sabbatical from the game to work on his health and spend time with his family:
BREAKING: Ryan Dempster will not pitch for #RedSox in 2014 due to physical reasons and his desire to spend more time with his kids.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) February 16, 2014
Dempster: “I don’t feel like I am capable of performing to the ability and standard that I am accustomed to. I feel it’s in the best . . .— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) February 16, 2014
“ . . interest of both the club but most importantly myself to step away from playing baseball at this time. The time is right. . . .— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) February 16, 2014
“I’m not saying retirement but I definitely won’t be playing this season.”— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) February 16, 2014
The Red Sox confirmed Rosenthal's news, noting Dempster would not close the door on a return in 2015:
Dempster adds that he's only looking at 2014 season. He may keep the door open, but doesn't see that changing right now.— Boston Red Sox (@RedSox) February 16, 2014
No matter what happens long term, the Red Sox will not be forced to pay his 2014 salary.
Per Rosenthal, the team plans to place him on the restricted list. The restricted list is a provision of the MLB collective bargaining agreement, which allows teams to essentially cut ties with a player who fails to report in a timely fashion. Boston keeps Dempster's rights in the event he decides to return to baseball.
Dempster's decision to forgo the 2014 season certainly comes as a surprise. He was due a $13.25 million salary, a difficult chunk of change for any player to walk away from, and still has some gas left in the tank at age 36.
Dempster's untenable position within Boston's rotation at the moment may have played a factor in his decision. Manager John Farrell has four guaranteed spots locked into his rotation with Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz and Jake Peavy.
Dempster was expected to compete in spring training for the No. 5 spot with Felix Doubront, the 26-year-old Venezuelan for whom the Red Sox have high expectations. Doubront arrived at spring training early this season, and he's made it clear with the Boston media he plans on being in the rotation Opening Day.
“I feel like I’m there, man,” Doubront said, per . “I’m there for something. I have a lot of years to do that, and the main thing is to keep myself strong. The opportunity I had before, I learned from it. I feel good.”
Although it's unclear which player had the upper hand, Dempster's performance in 2013 didn't engender much confidence.
He went 8-9 with a 4.57 ERA and 1.45 WHIP in 32 appearances (29 starts). One of the most reliably solid starting pitchers in the National League with the Chicago Cubs, Dempster was less than a two-win player for the first time since 2007, per FanGraphs.
An adjustment was expected with Dempster going from the NL Central to the more difficult AL East, but Boston had to feel it was overpaying on the two-year, $26.5 million contract he signed last winter. Dempster made only three appearances during the Red Sox's playoff run, all of which were in relief. He gave up only one earned run in three innings of work but allowed opposing batters to hit .333.
Heading into 2014, the Red Sox likely won't miss Dempster much.
Doubront will win the fifth starter's role by default, and Boston will have arguably the most formidable starting rotation in baseball. Peavy was an ace at nearly every one of his earlier stops, Lackey looked rejuvenated in 2013 and Buchholz is brilliant when healthy.
Health will be the ultimate factor in deciding whether Boston will miss Dempster. Among the top four in the rotation, only Lester doesn't have a long-term injury history.
If this is the end for Dempster, he will finish his career with a 132-133 record with a 4.35 ERA and 1.43 WHIP. His 16-year career has spanned five organizations, most notably his eight-plus-year run with the Cubs.
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