Red Sox Sign John Lackey: Another Trade Will Likely Follow

Sean KennedyCorrespondent IDecember 14, 2009

ANAHEIM, CA - OCTOBER 22:  John Lackey #41 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim reacts in Game Five of the ALCS against the New York Yankees during the 2009 MLB Playoffs at Angel Stadium on October 22, 2009 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

According to multiple reports, free-agent right hander John Lackey has signed a five-year contract with the Red Sox for somewhere in the vicinity of $82-$85 million.

The five-year offer for a 31-year-old pitcher is out of character for the Red Sox, and it will be very interesting to see which domino falls next for their busy front office.

Lackey will be an asset to the Red Sox' rotation; he has a career 3.81 ERA, all in the AL. He's reached 200 innings in four seasons, and 198 in another. 

However, Lackey hasn't come close to 200 the last two seasons, missing a month-plus in each due to arm trouble. In 2008 he made just 24 starts, and last year he made 27.

And the big Texan has never won more than 19 games. Overall, he has won just 102 games in eight seasons—an average of 13 wins per year. And he has never struck out 200 batters in any season, though he did fan 199 in 2005. 

Though he is not a true frontline ace, Lackey would be a No. 1 on most teams and he will be a great No. 2 on the Red Sox.

Signing Lackey will make the Josh Beckett negotiations quite interesting. Beckett took a hometown discount to extend with the Sox last time, but he won't do that again. 

Could, or would, the Sox spend big money on both pitchers? 

Trading Clay Buchholz for a serious hitter like Adrian Gonzalez would be an obvious motivation for, or result of, signing Lackey. Yet, there is another intriguing possibility. 

If the Red Sox don't get the feeling that they can extend Beckett before spring training, there is the distinct potential that they could trade him.

Signing Lackey gives the Red Sox the ability to leverage Beckett in a deal for more offense. Beckett would obviously be one of the most enticing chips the Red Sox could offer. But he would be desirable only to teams with genuine playoff aspirations, especially those with the belief that they can re-sign him next season.

A major league source with close knowledge of Boston's plans told the team doesn't have enough money in its budget to address all three of its current needs with premium talent: an expensive left fielder (Jason Bay or Matt Holliday); an expensive third baseman (Adrian Beltre); and another veteran starting pitcher.
The Red Sox could probably afford two high-end upgrades if they find a money-saver for the third area.
Signing Lackey almost certainly eliminates any possibility that the Sox will re-sign Jason Bay.
Multiple sources have indicated that the Red Sox' offer to Bay is at four years and holding. 
A baseball source with direct knowledge of the negotiations told ESPN that the Red Sox have no intention of offering Bay a five-year deal—which is what he is seeking. If another team (such as the Mets) elects to go to that length, the Red Sox will let Bay walk.
The Sox have left handed hitting Jeremy Hermida, who they could platoon with an inexpensive alternative to Bay. Right handed hitters Marlon Byrd, Mike Cameron, or even Xavier Nady would fit nicely on short-term deals. A deal appears to be in the works for Cameron.
Having spent big on Lackey, signing the inexpensive Cameron to play left would allow the Sox to spend more on a third baseman, such as Beltre.
Ben Sheets and Erik Bedard will be considerably less expensive than Lackey, and may still interest the Sox should they deal either Buchholz or Beckett.  
The Sox could also sign free agent Nick Johnson, who has a career .402 OBP and an .849 OPS, to a two-year deal for about $10 million. That inexpensive option would allow them to move Kevin Youkilis back to third base and spend more on a left fielder (Johnny Damon?), plus another starter.
In an interview with WEEI, Red Sox president Larry Lucchino disputed the notions that the Red Sox payroll has gone down the last two years, and that the team plans to continue the pattern next season. Lucchino said the Sox will actually have a higher payroll in 2010.
For the record, the Red Sox Opening Day payroll was $143 million in 2007, $133.4 million in 2008, and $121.7 million last season.
Even before signing Lackey, the Red Sox already had more than $100 million in contract obligations for 2010, including the $9 million-plus they'll be paying Julio Lugo.
Assuming the Red Sox consummate the Mike Lowell trade with Texas, they will be paying the Rangers and the Cardinals a combined total of about $18 million to employ what was once the starting left side of the Boston infield.
Those salaries will have to be tacked onto the 2010 salaries of Marco Scutaro and whoever ends up playing third for the Sox. It's merely the continuation of a horrible precedent.
The Sox had to pay the Braves $11 million to take shortstop Edgar Renteria. They paid the Cardinals another $13.5 million to take another shortstop, Lugo . They also had to pay the White Sox about $500,000 to take on outfielder Mark Kotsay, and the Dodgers needed $7 million before they would accept outfielder Manny Ramirez
While Theo Esptein has struck pay dirt with low-cost free agents such as Bill Mueller (who won a batting title), Kevin Millar and David Ortiz, he has also made some regrettable decisions with free agents: Matt Clement, Edgar Renteria, Julio Lugo, John Smoltz and Brad Penny were all busts. Additionally, J.D. Drew ($70 million) and Daisuke Matsuzaka ($103 million, including posting fee) were grossly overpriced. 
John Lackey will get another bountiful contract from the Red Sox. Hopefully he'll be more like the former in performance, because he's like the latter in cost.
The Red Sox certainly have deep pockets, but there are limits. After signing Lackey, we'll find out just what those limits are.