Given the monstrous improvements the Boston Red Sox have made this winter, it's funny to look back and consider that the "prize" of the last Hot Stove season in Beantown was none other than John Lackey.
It was something of a puzzling move when it was made, even more so when considering the generally "crap-tastic" season Lackey turned in last summer.
The other big news last winter came when the Sox inked Josh Beckett to a four-year, $68 million extension, an extension – look away if you have a weak stomach – that he's just beginning now.
This after what can only be characterized as a disastrous season on the mound.
It's easy to overlook the pair of hurlers given the Cy Young candidacy of Jon Lester and the emerging dominance of Clay Buchholz, but Sox fans would be wise not to lose sight of Beckett and Lackey.
For if the Red Sox are going to take a major step forward this year, one or both of them will have to find a way to resemble their old selves. Or at least dependable, big-league pitchers.
Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford are tremendous acquisitions, and the lineup is now an unquestionable strength of the team. The bullpen, too, appears to have been solidified with the additions of Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler, among others.
But take an effective Beckett and Lackey away from the starting rotation and suddenly you have two reliable starters and a bunch of question marks.
That's what's known in baseball circles as a big-time problem.
Beckett has had a disturbing habit of alternating between very good and very bad years, and by that math he is due for a standout campaign.
He also battled injuries last season and never rounded into form. There's certainly evidence that proves how impressive he can be when he's right, but the Sox are going to need at least a few glimpses of that Josh Beckett in the early going.
Lackey remains an even bigger question. Will he be the pitcher the Sox thought they were getting or will he remain Daisuke's brother from another mother, an inconsistent hurler who is wildly frustrating to watch on the hill?
The truth of the matter is the Sox are probably deep enough to survive a sub-par season from one of the two.
But they can't both disappear again like they did last summer. At least one of these guys is going to have to man up and pitch like the kind of guy worth the insane lumps of cash the Sox are shelling out.
Because for all the talk about how much better the Red Sox are, things will implode faster than the Metrodome roof if the team can't go any deeper than two reliable starters.
And I'm not ready to lean on Daisuke or Tim Wakefield if Beckett and Lackey continue to struggle.
Josh Beckett and John Lackey have a proven track record as solid starting pitchers. Beckett has been an ace and filed one of the great postseasons in recent pitching history. The bottom line is that the talent is there.
But the Red Sox will need to see it on the field this summer, or what has been hyped as a fairy tale story could wind up with a depressing ending.
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