Boston Red Sox: Where Can They Turn If Beckett and Lackey Don't Return To Form?

Corey NachmanContributor IIMarch 8, 2011

Boston Red Sox: Where Can They Turn If Beckett and Lackey Don't Return To Form?

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    FORT MYERS, FL - FEBRUARY 19:  Pitchers John Lackey #41 and Josh Beckett #19 of the Boston Red Sox talk during a Spring Training Workout Session at the Red Sox Player Development Complex on February 19, 2011 in Fort Myers, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Get
    J. Meric/Getty Images

    One hundred and fifty million five hundred thousand dollars. That's an obscene amount of money. With that kind of cash, you could open thirty of your own Dunkin' Donuts franchises, buy the high school I attended, acquire all of the Honus Wagner rookie cards that may be left on Earth, and a Fenway Frank.

    Or, if you're like the Red Sox, you craft a multi-year commitment to two pitchers that went a combined 20-17 with an ERA above five last year.

    December 16th, 2010 could eventually go down in history as the first day Theo Epstein made a truly awful free agent signing when he inked John Lackey to a five year, $82.5 million dollar contract. Followers of the Theo Rules know that Epstein made a key exception when drafting up that deal: no big contracts that pay the players an exorbitant salary when they are upwards the age of 35. Lackey will be 37 by the time his deal is done, and he's due to make 15.25 million dollars that year. The track record for pitchers that late in their 40s is less than favorable. Unless your name is Cy Young, Satchel Paige, or Phil Niekro, there's really not much of a chance to dominate that close to the age of 40. The only three pitchers in recent memory that had nearly dominant years in their late 30s were Curt Schilling (fastball was starting to lose some life, however), Randy Johnson (who was a freak of nature), and Roger Clemens (yeah). While John Lackey will probably never break down due to his frame and fundamentally strong wind-up, it's a lot for us to expect that he will be a well above-average starter in 2016.

    Josh Beckett signed a four year extension worth $68 million American dollars, the day after he laid an Opening Day egg (he threw 99 pitches in only 4.2 innings of work against the New York Yankees). At the time, the Nation was clamoring for a Josh Beckett extension, and he deserved one. Beckett was coming off a solid 2009 (following "The Beckett Pattern). What we didn't expect was that Beckett would find another way to struggle through a nagging injury, battling a bad back throughout all of 2010. At the end of the season, some of us were left wondering if Theo was becoming less like a God i and becoming more like a baseball Gob, forming a habit for huge mistakes.

    The biggest concern emanating from the Fens is that John Lackey and Josh Beckett are trending downwards. No team has ever won the World Series with two under achievers in their starting rotation, so their concern is valid. Are Josh and John done? If so, what options would Boston have? 

Much Ado About Nothing: Josh Beckett Will Be Fine

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    FORT MYERS, FL - FEBRUARY 27:  Pitcher Josh Beckett #19 of the Boston Red Sox pitches against the Minnesota Twins during a Grapefruit League Spring Training Game at Hammond Stadium on February 27, 2011 in Fort Myers, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Ima
    J. Meric/Getty Images

    Personally, I think everyone should calm down. Lackey and Beckett can pitch. Last year's woes can be attributed to injury (Beckett) and bad luck (Lackey).

    Starting with Beckett, his poor showing in 2010 had to have been expected, just like Tron: Legacy. If Beckett giving up two more hits over his career average per nine came as a shock to anyone, they clearly haven't followed Beckett's career trajectory; a simple up and down arc known as the "Beckett Pattern."

    Since 2001, when Josh Beckett started his career, he has had one good season followed by a bad season. Baseball is a game famous for it's propensity to evoke bizarre superstitions from players since they can't understand why things aren't working for them out on the diamond, yet Josh Beckett has consistently followed the simplest of patterns, defying the charm of baseball: always expect the unexpected.

    2002 with Florida: First full season facing major leaguers and blisters. 6-7 record. ERA of 4.10. Allowed 3.7 walks per nine. 0.8 WAR.

    2003 with Florida: 9-8 record. 3.04 ERA. Gave up only nine home runs all year. Still faced some blister issues. 3.4 WAR. Oh, and he was the World Series MVP.

    2004 with Florida: 9-9 record. 3.79 ERA. WAR went down to 1.9.

    2005 with Florida: Blister problem finally reigned in. First 15-win season. First season where less than 3 walks were allowed per 9 (2.9). Career best in hits allowed per 9 (7.7). WAR rebounded to 3.1.

    2006 with Boston: First season in the AL. First season in career with an ERA above 5 (barely, with 5.01). Career low in strikeouts per nine with 6.9,  nearly two below his career average of 8.5. WAR went back down to 1.9 again.

    2007 with Boston: First 20 win season. Second in the CY Young Award voting. Less than two walks allowed per nine. Career high 4.7 WAR. All-Star. ALCS MVP.

    2008 with Boston: 12-10 record. ERA climbed back over 4 again. Battled more injuries. WAR of 3.3. Not a terrible season, but certainly a let down from 2007.

    2009 with Boston: 17-6 record. ERA fell below 4 (3.86). Career high of 4 complete games. Career high of 212 innings pitched. WAR of 4.2. All-Star. 

    2010 with Boston: Worst season yet. 6-6 record. 5.78 ERA. Least amount of innings pitched since 2002. Gave up over 10 hits per nine. Most home runs allowed per nine. An abysmal WAR of -1.0.

    Next year is an odd year, and Josh Beckett loves odd years. If Beckett's health is back where it should be (fly ball striking him in the temple aside), then he will be a solid contributor once again. History is on his side.

Blame It on Bad Luck: John Lackey

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    FT. MYERS, FL - FEBRUARY 20:  John Lackey #41 of the Boston Red Sox poses for a portrait during the Boston Red Sox Photo Day on February 20, 2011 at the Boston Red Sox Player Development Complex in Ft. Myers, Florida  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
    Elsa/Getty Images

    The only time I have ever seen more squeezing than John Lackey's 2010 season was the time I toured the Tropicana Factory! Ha-cha-cha-cha-cha-cha-cha!

    But, seriously though, umpires hate John Lackey. The way he glares at the men in blue is just so sinister, and they must be scared out of their heads when he stares them down like a Great White Shark. He looks almost like Jaws from The Spy Who Loved Me and Jaws from Jaws. He's an intense dude and I like that about him. Believe it or not, I liked the John Lackey signing a lot, and I still do. If he flounders again (fine, I'll stop) however, I will  have to eat some serious crowfish (seriously, last one). 

    John Lackey had control issues last year, but some of that blame can go to Lance Barksdale, Gary Cederstrom,  Mark Wegner (twice), Jeff Kellogg, Mike DiMuro, and Paul Emmel (twice). In games umpired by them, I marked the most bad calls. I didn't see all of John Lackey's starts (I read too many books for that), but in the games I watched and kept my short handed notes on, these umpires were not drinking their tiger's blood. You can't argue balls and strikes? Bah! I'm arguing balls and strikes. At least he never got Joe West.

    If John Lackey was a little bit luckier though, he honestly would have only been slightly better. He gave up a ton of hits, but he really always has. His career hits per nine average is 9.2, and while I'm not good at math, I do know that's more than one hit allowed per inning. John Lackey may just be a feast or famine pitcher, consistent in the quality of his starts, but hits just don't fall right sometimes.

    He's an expensive fourth starter, but he's efficient. He throws a ton of innings, generally gets around 17 quality starts a season, he was crazy good in 2007 and really isn't any worse for the wear since then so I'd stay he still has all-star potential, and he looks great this off season. Right now, he has the perfect build for a pitcher after losing what looks like to be around 20 pounds this off season. A lean 6'6" pitcher that uses his legs effectively will not break down. 

    He was better in the second half of the season, despite going 5-6 (hey sports writers older and more brittle than the Great Coral Reef, wins and losses are not good indicators of how good or how bad a pitcher's season was!), with 2.5 more K's per 9 with a better K to BB ratio, and a batted ball average thirty points lower than the first half. That might be more of that luck thing, though.

    Lackey is going to be matched up with Brad Bergesens, Jake Arrieta, and Jeremy Hellickson several times this year, so Lackey will appease Murray Chass again, and make me like good for praising his signing. That's what I'm most excited for.   

Although, There Is Some Reason to Worry

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    CLEARWATER, FL - FEBRUARY 27:  Pitcher Joe Blanton #56 of the  Philadelphia Phillies starts against the New York Yankees February 27, 2011 at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Florida.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    Alright, so let's say I'm wrong. It's rare, but it has happened before. I was positive Kerry would beat Bush, and that Carol Reynolds liked me in high school. That's it. Everything else? Nailed it. 

    Josh Beckett and John Lackey don't show up in 2011. They become shells of themselves and we all collectively agree that we screwed up signing them for such a long time. It's a bleak prospect. It handicaps us financially, we couldn't trade them for anyone worthwhile, they aren't the bullpen type, they obviously have no minor league options, and our best minor league prospects for starters are at least two seasons away from arriving here.

    If the season is dragged down by their lackluster performance, their only real moves would be trades. To get a pitcher that isn't just lying on a scrap heap in Florida, they'd have to move Lars Anderson, Ryan Kalish, and/or Drake Britton. I really don't think they'd move Jose Iglesias, however. The Red Sox are in love with him, as am I.

    The options that they could pick up are somewhat slim as well. The Cleveland Indians would love to move Fausto Carmona, and it may be fairly cheap to acquire him, but it seems like sinker pitchers are not doing as well as they used to. Brandon Webb hasn't done anything, Derek Lowe is good but not great, and when was the last time you heard from Chien-Mein Wang?

    Philadelphia's Joe Blanton is certainly expendable due to the Phillies having the Harlem Globetrotters added to their rotation. Blanton is their weak link, but is a guaranteed innings eater, and is like a John Lackey Lite. It wouldn't take more than one prospect to acquire him, but the Red Sox would need to take on a lot of the 16 million dollars left on his contract, so it wouldn't be a penny wise move, but cheaper than this next alternative.   

Go Buehrle or Go Home

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    BOSTON - SEPTEMBER 05:  Mark Buehrle #56 of the Chicago White Sox delivers a pitch in the first inning against the Boston Red Sox on September 5, 2010 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
    Elsa/Getty Images

    The Chicago White Sox could go either way this year, and they need big years from Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko, and a bounce back year from Carlos Quentin. If Jake Peavy returns to form and stays healthy, watch out. Chicago could be a real threat.

    However, they could not be, and Mark Buehrle will be hoisted upon the trading block again. The Red Sox flirted with the idea of acquiring Mark Buehrle before, and he could be available even if Chicago does well-- the price will just be higher. Buehrle is a lock for 200 innings, he's still in the prime of his career at 31, and he wouldn't be on the Yankees who want another left hander to compliment CC Sabathia in handling the lefty heavy Red Sox lineup (but Adrian Gonzalez, who is awesome, hits lefties too).

    Chicago would love to rid themselves of his contract, since he makes 14 million this year, and is owed an additional 30 million over the next two seasons after that. If the Red Sox stop caring about their budget, they would try to make this move since Buehrle is an absolutely rock solid band-aid.

It'll Probably Be Okay

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    NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 25:  Jon Lester #31 of the Boston Red Sox pitches against the New York Yankees during their game on September 25, 2010 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
    Chris McGrath/Getty Images

    The faithful members of the nation have their concerns, but the Red Sox have so much depth, it may take even more than Josh Beckett and John Lackey to eliminate their playoff hopes. Jon Lester is a perennial Cy Young candidate now, and Clay Buchholz has emerged as one of the most solid young pitchers in the majors. His crazy 2.33 ERA of last year will probably go up a smidgen, but it's not too unreasonable to expect another season of a WAR above 4. 

    Those two combine for a lethal 1-2 punch. If Josh Beckett is really Josh Beckett, he'll be mowing batters down again. He just needs to stay healthy and everything will be okay. John Lackey as a fourth starter is such a luxury, even if he's 85% of how good he was in 2007. Daisuke Matsuzaka is young enough to be as good as he was, or better even, than he was in 2008. He is also going to be under less pressure competing from the fifth slot of the rotation.

    Injuries aside, the Red Sox shouldn't be worried about who they have throwing the ball.

    Hey Carol, if you're reading this, please call. I'm like, super totally rich now.