Forecasting Beckett's Future In Boston

Josh Beckett's future with the Red Sox has been a hot topic as the commencement of Spring Training looms. With pitchers and catchers set to report in just over a month -- and with the outlook of the 2010 club all but cemented -- much of the attention has been redirected towards the organization's plans regarding Beckett's expiring contract.

Despite general manager Theo Epstein's best efforts to assure everyone, Beckett included, that re-signing the veteran pitcher is a top priority in 2010, there has been an enormous amount of speculation surrounding the situation. Scenarios involving an assortment of possibilities have been offered; but what will the Red Sox ultimately decide to do with Beckett?

With so many unforeseen factors effecting the eventual negotiations, it is impossible to accurately depict the result at the present moment. That being said, accuracy isn't necessarily of the utmost importance when speculating. So, impossible or not, let's contemplate Josh Beckett's future in an attempt to forecast the chances that he remain in Boston following 2010.

Josh Beckett's success in Boston to this point can be best described as oft-changing.

Beckett's initial 2006 season in Boston caused many to question his ability to pitch in the American League. After five seasons with the National League's Florida Marlins, in which he went 41-32 with a 3.46 ERA and won a World Series title (and World Series MVP Award), Josh struggled with the Red Sox. Beckett was met with much scrutiny after going 16-11 with a 5.01 ERA in his first season with Boston, and many questioned whether it was the league-change or the weight of signing a lucrative mid-season contract extension that caused the right-hander to falter.

However, Beckett silenced his critics in 2007 after going 20-7 with a 3.27 ERA. For the first time Beckett would be named an All-Star that season; and while he finished 2nd in the AL Cy Young voting to C.C. Sabathia, many believed he should have won after leading Boston past Sabathia's Indians en route to an eventual World Series title.

Unfortunately, the subsequent two seasons (2008, 2009) would be very similar to his first pair with Boston in the fact that they themselves were so different in comparison. 2008 saw Beckett again struggle, while 2009 was a relatively positive season overall.

However you may choose to see it, there's no belittling what Beckett has done in a Red Sox uniform overall. Twice an All-Star with Boston, Josh's real legacy will lie in his postseason prowess and the accolades that he received as a result of his playoff success. In winning a World Series title and ALCS MVP Award with the Red Sox (both in 2007), Beckett truly established himself as one of the game's elite clutch performers.

While it may be the irregularity of Beckett's success with Boston that evokes intrigue involving his future; there are a number of related situations that may have a direct influence on negotiations and, thus, are worth surveying.  

John Lackey's signing this off season has been a particularly interesting development in relation to the whole situation. The similarities between Beckett and Lackey are worth noting (playoff comparisons via parentheses):

                    D.O.B.             GS                W-L                 ERA              ERA+              IP     

Beckett:    05/15/1980       225 (13)        106-68 (7-3)       3.79 (3.07)          117           1,401 (93.2)

Lackey:     10/23/1978       233 (12)        102-71 (3-4)       3.81 (3.12)          117            1,501 (78)

In fact, Baseball-Reference.com uses their similarity score system (first introduced by Bill James) to show us that no other pitcher is more comparable to Beckett than Lackey is, and vice-versa. The 971 score that is compiled for Beckett and Lackey is significantly high for the two right-handed Texas natives, with the similarities ascending beyond the field.

This off season, the Red Sox signed Lackey to a 5-year deal worth around $80 million; a deal that will likely mirror that in which Beckett will ultimately command. With that in mind -- is signing Lackey simply a way to replace Beckett's production 2011, while affording them the services of both pitchers in 2010? With such a relative pitcher [Lackey] already locked-up for the next five seasons, the Red Sox could find themselves in an advantageous position come contract negotiation time. It is important to perform in a contract year for any player, but it becomes exponentially more important when your current team has less of a glaring need at your position, as Boston does with Lackey. Regardless of whether or not Boston is leaning towards re-signing Beckett, they stand to reap the benefits of his performance next season, one way or another. If Beckett does well and commands more than they are willing to pay, the fact that they already have Lackey softens the blow of losing him (again, while still benefiting from his production in 2010). On the other hand, if Beckett struggles, the Red Sox will have the upper-hand during negotiations and can potentially retain him at a lesser price, or avoid extending the contract of a declining pitcher. Essentially, Lackey's presence allows them to gauge the market for Beckett while remaining comfortable with any potential outcome as it pertains to 2011. 

Martinez and Schilling. Schilling and Beckett. Beckett and Lester. When successful, the Red Sox have always featured a strong 1-2 punch at the top of their starting rotation; a trend that makes the emergence of Jon Lester an increasingly-substantial storyline. In fact, Lester has actually been more impressive than Beckett the past two seasons as it is (being named the Red Sox's Pitcher of the Year both years). That being said; is a combination of Lester and Lackey inevitably the next sequence in the aforementioned pattern? Lester's consistency can only decrease Beckett's overall appeal to the Red Sox after his contract demands are brought into consideration.

Another development that warrants a certain level of attention in relation to Josh Beckett is, on a number of levels, that of young pitcher Clay Buchholz. The Red Sox opted to keep Buchholz throughout yet another rumor-filled off season, but the offense, despite the recent addition of Adrian Beltre, is still a question mark heading into 2010. One of the biggest uncertainties offensively is which David Ortiz will show up. Will it be the one that struggled so mightily at the onset of last season that his first home run of the season induced a standing ovation at Fenway Park; or will it be the one who finished the year as one of the best hitters in baseball? If it is the latter, Buchholz could again find his name enthralled in trade deadline discussions. In the event that Buchholz is dealt, the Red Sox will find themselves without two of the current starters following the season (the other being Wakefield, assuming his retirement), with the total increasing to three if they cannot retain Beckett; something that makes signing him that much more intrigal to the team's success following this self-appointed "bridge period." Theo Epstein even made a point in the media recently to point out Ortiz's need to be a "force" if he is to remain the full-time DH. One reason that Epstein may have been so apprehensive in dealing Buchholz this winter is that he wanted to see how his offense, namely Ortiz, would perform before moving a valuable prospect such as Buchholz.

Even Daisuke Matsuzaka, despite all reports indicating that he may be in for a breakout season in 2010, remains an uncertainty. Matsuzaka recently went on record saying that his struggles in 2009 were a direct reflection of his choice to play through injury. It has been reported that Dice-K is set to enter spring training lighter and stronger following an off season in which he was driven by the adversity of last year.

Similarly, Buchholz himself is also a pending question mark, as he has been throughout his time in Boston.

By not hastily adressing Beckett's contractual negotiations, it seems as though Epstein has once again put the organization in the best position possible. John Lackey's signing may have been done to ensure that the Red Sox rotation would remain formidable following 2010, while affording the front office the luxury of a 'wait and see' approach regarding Beckett and the previously mentioned players during the course of the season.

General manager Theo Epstein is known for his tendancy to put a price on a player heading into negotiations, as well as his ability to stick to it throughout. Look no futher than Jason Bay and Mark Teixeira's interactions with Epstein in the past when searching for examples of this. Epstein will eventually place a level of value on Josh Beckett and a price to match it -- something that will likely coincide with the circumstances listed above.

Is this Beckett's last season with the Boston Red Sox? It's starting to look that way, but with so many outside factors to take into consideration, only time will tell. Even speculation on the topic such as this is subject to outside influence.

Fans, like Epstein, will have to take a 'wait and see' approach.

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