The Red Sox have signed the best free agent pitcher on the market.
Former Angels starter John Lackey agreed to a five-year $82.5 million contract. In 234 career games, Lackey has a record of 102-71 with a 3.81 ERA.
Last season Boston had issues with the consistency of their starting rotation. Brad Penny, John Smoltz, and Paul Byrd were not the answers to filling out the back end of the rotation. Tim Wakefield started off hot but broke down in the second half of the season and wound up on the DL, as did Daisuke Matsuzaka who was injured the majority of the year and struggled when he returned.
Meanwhile, the 31-year-old Lackey went 11-8 with a 3.83 ERA, had 139 strikeouts in 176.1 innings pitched, and was the ace on the AL West-winning Angels’ staff.
Adding the best pitcher available gives the Sox considerable depth in their rotation. Whether or not Lackey is the ace is questionable, but having opponents face a top three of Lackey, Josh Beckett, and Jon Lester is quite an arduous task.
If the Red Sox do make it back to the playoffs, having the ability to rely on those three is a huge advantage, much like the Yankees showed this previous postseason when they used the three-man rotation of C.C. Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, and A.J. Burnett.
It also provides much-needed flexibility. After this season Josh Beckett is a free agent, and Lackey could be insurance if Beckett decides to flee or is deemed too expensive (although signing Lackey to such a large deal not only would seem to drive up Beckett’s price tag, but also makes one wonder if there is such a thing as “too expensive” for the Red Sox).
There is also the possibility that, now with Lackey in the fold, Boston could trade young stud Clay Buchholz in a package to acquire a big bat, something the Sox were in desperate need of all season.
That offensive firepower is now even more desperately needed because the Red Sox have cut ties with left-fielder Jason Bay, who refused to accept their four-year, $60 million contract.
Boston already needed to upgrade their offense, but the departure of Bay makes their lineup much less intimidating to opposing pitchers.
Bay led the Red Sox in home runs, RBI, total bases, and walks, was second on the team in runs, and was in the top five in hits, doubles, triples, and even stolen bases.
Bay was the only Boston player to reach 30 home runs (36) and 100 RBI (119) last season. Again, he was the only one to reach those figures, and now he is gone.
He is replaced in left field by Mike Cameron. The 36-year-old signed a two-year $15.5 million contract. He is a good fielder, earning three gold gloves over his career, but those did come in center field and without the Green Monster behind him, a big adjustment to any new fielder.
Cameron is also a solid hitter, belting 27 home runs last year to go along with 70 RBI and an average of .250.
He is likely to platoon with earlier acquisition Jeremy Hermida. However, the combination of these two is still not an upgrade, or even an equal replacement, to Bay’s production.
The Red Sox offseason continues to twist and turn. They add the best available pitcher but lose their best bat. It should be anticipated that there is still at least one more big move to be made.