Let the Josh Beckett Watch Begin: Can Red Sox Retain Pitcher After 2010?

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Let the Josh Beckett Watch Begin: Can Red Sox Retain Pitcher After 2010?
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John Tomase touches on a number of fascinating points as Boston Red Sox ace Josh Beckett heads towards free agency after this season.



1. Injury Protection

"But there could be complications. The Red Sox recently have made a point of including injury protection in their big free agent contracts. Right fielder J.D. Drew [stats] and John Lackey agreed to clauses that allow the team to opt out (Drew) or add another season at the minimum (Lackey) if pre-existing conditions sidelined either.

"[Jason] Bay balked at a similar provision last year, which is what derailed those negotiations in July and caused the Sox to pull their four-year, $60 million offer off the table. It never returned.

"When the Sox acquired Beckett in November 2005, there were sufficient concerns about the health of his right shoulder to give the team pause before pulling the trigger. The sides didn’t include any injury protection in the three-year, $30 million extension he signed during the 2006 season, and he has averaged 30 starts and 198 innings per season since.

"Still, if the team considered the shoulder worrisome in 2005, it stands to reason there will be concerns in ’10."

Kudos to the Red Sox for asking their big money free agents to include this provision in their contracts. The Red Sox are simply protecting their investment. In the long term, I think we can all agree that provisions like this are a plus for the team.

If Beckett finishes the 2010 season healthy, then it would not surprise me to see the Red Sox not insist on this provision in the contract. The injury protection that the Red Sox have in Drew and Lackey's contracts only covers pre-existing conditions that the Red Sox identified before the contract was agreed upon.

The only problem here is that Beckett has no existing condition that we know of that the Red Sox can put into the contract. The article mentions that Beckett has a history of shoulder concerns. I guess the Red Sox can put that into the contract, but my research has shown that Beckett has never been on the DL because of his shoulder (look out for blisters though!).

The Red Sox's negotiations with Jason Bay fell apart because they insisted on having an injury protection clause in the contract, but Bay refused because he was not hurt.

If the Red Sox want to keep Beckett around after 2010, then they might have to suck it up and not put the injury clause in the contract. From Beckett's perspective, there is no reason that he should have to forfeit money and years to the Red Sox now when he has not missed any time with the said pre-existing condition (then again, he might really, really want to stay in Boston).

 

2. Will Josh Beckett land a $100 million contract?

"At one time, signing Beckett to a $100 million deal seemed like a foregone conclusion. In 2007, he won 20 games for the first time, finished second in the Cy Young Award voting to CC Sabathia and carried the Sox to the World Series as AL Championship Series MVP.

"He’s clearly one of the most desirable pitchers in the game, but will the Red Sox see him that way by the end of the season? Will he be a $100 million player? Will he get a five-year deal? Crazy as it sounds, could he even be trade bait for a bat come July if the Red Sox decide they don’t like their chance of retaining him?"

A lot can change between now and next winter, but my opinion is if Beckett's 2010 season is similar to 2007, then he will have a good chance at a $100 million-plus contract. Beckett's age, ability, and past performance (2003 postseason, 2007 season, 2009 season) all are good reasons why a team should invest heavily in Beckett despite his somewhat up and down performance with the Red Sox.

The one major factor that Beckett has working against him—even if he puts together a career season in 2010—is that the 2011 free agent class is going to be rich in starting pitchers. The list of quality free agent starting pitchers is quite impressive: Beckett, Cliff Lee, Javier Vazquez, Brandon Webb and Ted Lilly are the cream of the crop.

Normally, there are two or three quality starting pitchers on the free agent market, but the forecast for the winter suggests that we could have at least five top-flight starting pitchers who are free agents. There is no doubt that there will be heavy demand for these starting pitchers, but the supply of "ace level" starting pitchers could ultimately bring the individual prices of these starting pitchers down.

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