Baseball is recovering from the biggest day of this off-season thus far. The Boston Red Sox were at the middle of a lot of the days news, even if they were not involved with the biggest name.
The Sox were considered the top bidders in the Roy Halladay sweepstakes and that the GM’s winter meetings came and went with Halladay still donning the baby-blue uniforms came to some insiders as a surprise. When Curtis Granderson went to the New York Yankees in a three-team trade last week, many thought that that removed one a top competitors, as the Yankees gave up two young pitchers and a top prospect to land their new centerfielder.
But the Sox did not swing a deal for Halladay as the asking price was ultimately too high. The Philadelphia Phillies made the big splash, acquiring the high priced right-hander in yet another three-team deal that is reportedly sending Cliff Lee to the Seattle Mariners.
The Sox were, however, able to land a very valuable right-hander in John Lackey. Lackey came to Boston to undergo a physical and it was reported hours alter that he had agreed to a five-year contract.
The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but it is believed it is similar to the contract given but the Yankees to A.J. Burnett, who received $82.5 million over five years ($16.5 million per year). Both pitchers have had similar success, but Lackey is younger and has been more consistent over his career.
Lackey has put together five straight seasons with at least 10 wins and a sub-4.00 ERA, which is tied with Halladay for the second longest active streak (Johan Santana). Lackey also has solid post-season experience having played in October ball regularly with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Lackey owns a 3.12 ERA in 78 post-season innings pitched.
Lackey would begin the season as the Sox third starter behind Josh Beckett and Jon Lester. Daisuke Matsuzaka becomes the fourth starter, with Clay Buchholz and Tim Wakefield vying for the fifth spot.
The impact of Lackey’s signing is big for Boston. For several seasons, we have been able to say that the Sox possess a great deal of depth in the rotation. But when July comes around, injuries and trades combined with players that do not pan out (see Penny, Brad and Smoltz, John), the Sox have realized that solid starting pitching is a scarce commodity.
Behind the trio of Beckett-Lester-Lackey, the Sox have one of the elite rotations in baseball. And if Matsuzaka can return to the 2007-08 form when he won 33 games, and Buchholz can pitch the way he ended 2009, then the Sox have the best starting five in baseball.
The strength of the rotation and the signing of Lackey also takes some of the burden off of the offense, and indeed, the ability of Theo Epstein to sign a big-time hitter, which leads us to the other big news for Red Sox nation.
It was reported that Jason Bay has declined Boston’s most recent offer, believed to be around four years/$60 million. The New York Mets offered Bay $65 million over four years earlier this week, but were not considered real players to acquire Bay.
Bay is looking for five years, and it seems like whichever team is willing to invest that money in him will be where he lands.
Bay will be 31 years old next season, and a five year deal will mean that he is 36 in the final year of his contract, which is older than both David Ortiz and Mike Lowell, who is practically on the Texas Rangers roster as we speak.
The Sox foresee Bay having to move to designated hitter possibly as early as the third year of his next contract, which means that the Sox will be paying upwards of $15 million for yet another aging DH. An extra year means the Sox have to commit a significant amount of money to a very limited player, while home grown players like Lester, Pedroia and Youkilis all will be up for new long term deals by that time.
Bay’s agent has stated that he and his client are moving on from the Sox. Given Bay’s talents and his excellent power numbers last year, there will always be suitors. But the Yankees are likely off of that list after trading for Granderson, and the Mets will return several players from injury with an already swollen payroll.
Matt Holliday still remains available and he is likely the next target on Epstein’s list. Holliday would be a slight upgrade from Bay, but is represented by Scott Boras, so any contract will likely reflect it. Epstein has typically shied away from Boras-represented players (that he didn’t draft), but without Bay, there is a gaping hole in the Sox lineup.
The Sox also made a $15.5 million offer to Cuban right-hander Aroldis Chapman, considered to be the most prized foreign player. Chapman is 21-years-old and recently defected from Cuba. He is known for regularly recording triple digits on the radar gun with his blazing fastball.