Saturday, August 29, 2009

Lackey would look good in a Red Sox uniform

The Red Sox could have made a waiver claim on Scott Kazmir but didn't -- a fairly reasonable decision given the $22.5 million in guaranteed money remaining on the contract of a lefty who still has made 30 starts and pitched 160 innings in a season just twice in the last four seasons. So far this season, he has a 5.92 ERA and a career-high WHIP of 1.541 to go along with a career-low strikeout-to-walk ratio of 1.82.

A couple of years ago, he looked like a franchise-cornerstone lefthanded ace, Jon Lester before there was a Jon Lester. Since then, though, injuries have forced him to overhaul his arsenal to stay effective in the major leagues.

The trade might, however, create an opportunity for the Red Sox. If the Angels have to pay $20 million over the next two years for Kazmir -- as well as the $13.5 million option or $2.5 million buyout they'll have to consider -- they might have to think twice about opening the vault for free-agent-to-be John Lackey at the end of the season.

That might leave an opening for the Red Sox.

(The Rays, on the other hand, appear to have freed up enough cash to keep Carl Crawford around for the forseeable future -- bad news for the Red Sox and Yankees.)

Theo Epstein almost certainly will engage the Toronto Blue Jays in trade discussions for Roy Halladay in the offseason. Halladay remains one of the top two or three pitchers in baseball, but a deal for Halladay would mean both a huge haul of prospects as well as a lengthy and lucrative contract extension.

Lackey isn't in the same stratosphere as Halladay, but he's only a notch or two behind. If the Red Sox could land Lackey with a Derek Lowe-esque contract (four years, $50 or $60 million), they could also keep Clay Buchholz and Daniel Bard and the rest of the prospect haul Toronto's J.P. Ricciardi almost certainly will demand for his ace.

Rather than being left with a rotation of Halladay and Lester and assorted flotsam if Josh Beckett departs after the 2010 season, the Red Sox would have a rotation of Lester, Lackey, Buchholz, Junichi Tazawa and any number of options to fill out the back end.

Lackey is just finishing up a four-year, $24.5 million contract with the Angels that will take him through his 31st birthday. He's not going to get A.J. Burnett money (five years, $82.5 million) because the only team that would have paid him that sort of money already paid it to A.J. Burnett. The Red Sox ought to be competitive with any team interested in his services -- and there will be a few.

The 6-foot-6, 205-pound righty might still be remembered for his Game 7 start against the Giants in the 2002 World Series, but he's won double-digit games with a sub-4.00 ERA in each of the last four seasons. He began this season on the disabled list with tightness in his throwing elbow but has a respectable 4.16 ERA in 20 starts since then.

He has a lousy career ERA at Fenway Park, but you might remember the mid-July game a year ago in which he took a no-hitter into the ninth inning before Dustin Pedroia broke it up. He also had a 2.63 ERA in a pair of ALDS starts against the Red Sox last season and has a career ERA of 3.39 in 58 1/3 postseason innings pitched.

He throws a fastball in the low 90s with a curveball, a slider, a changeup and a cutter, and he even can pull out a sinker now and then.

Oh, and he's almost as tough on lefties (.727 career OPS) as he is on righties (.716 OPS), something that's going to come in handy if he's pitching against the Yankees over the next three or four seasons. He has a career ERA of 4.66 against the Yankees, but that includes seven impressive innings in a win in Anaheim on July 12 of this season.

What sets him apart, though, is that he can strike hitters out (his K/9 ratio has been at least 7.0 in each of the last five seasons) and can avoid walking hitters (his BB/9 ratio has been 3.0 or below in seven of his eight seasons). Check out the following leaderboard:

Strikeout-to-walk ratio since 2002 (active players, min. 1,000 IP)
1. Randy Johnson, 4.32
2. Ben Sheets, 4.20
3. Roy Halladay, 4.09
4. Johan Santana, 4.07
5. Pedro Martinez, 4.00
13. CC Sabathia, 2.88
14. Andy Pettitte, 2.77
15. John Lackey, 2.71
16. Jason Schmidt, 2.66
17. Cliff Lee, 2.64
18. Odalis Perez, 2.61
19. Mark Buehrle, 2.58
20. Freddy Garcia, 2.58

One thing this list shows is just how far ahead Halladay is of Lackey. But Felix Hernandez, a young pitcher for whom Epstein offered to back up the truck at the trading deadline, has a 2.85 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his career and a 3.25 strikeout-to-walk ratio this season.

Hernandez, like Halladay, is a far better franchise cornerstone than Lackey -- particularly given his age.

But if you could land Lackey without surrendering Buchholz and Bard and Tazawa and Lars Anderson and Ryan Kalish and Casey Kelly, well, that sounds like a pretty good deal.

1 comment:

floydiansea said...

I know personality doesn't exactly count for much in baseball (well, considering everyone talked about how uncool Barry Bonds was), but I've always like Lackey's sense of humor. Never hurts to have someone who likes to talk.

Of course, that being said, it has nothing to do with his prowess.