Both Fanhouse and FoxSports.com are reporting that Angels ace John Lackey is undergoing a physical with the Red Sox, and FoxSports.com has gone far enough to suggest that the Red Sox likely are offering an A.J. Burnett-type contract -- though Lackey might not get five years from the Red Sox the way Burnett did from the Yankees.
Should Lackey sign with the Red Sox, the deal would have implications for several players who wore the Red Sox uniform last season:
1. Jason Bay
Done. Gone. Agent Joe Urbon suggested this weekend that Bay had moved on and was fielding better offers, and signing Lackey would seem to indicate that Theo Epstein was taking Urbon at his word. It seems unlikely that the Red Sox would drop $15 million or more on Bay at the same time -- especially since the signing of Lackey takes the Red Sox even farther along the road of being a pitching-and-defense team. Bay doesn't seem to fit on a pitching-and-defense team. Mike Cameron, on the other hand, does.
2. Mike Lowell
The deal with Texas appears to have hit a snag, but the same pitching-and-defense philosophy that eliminates Bay likewise eliminates Lowell from the Red Sox's plans. A pitching-and-defense team can't have a player at third base whose range is such a question mark entering the season. If the deal with Texas falls through, the Red Sox still will have to find a way to unload Lowell and make room for Adrian Beltre.
3. Josh Beckett
4. Clay Buchholz
The signing of Lackey likewise suggests that either Beckett or Buchholz fits into the post-2010 plans of the Red Sox, but not both. A Beckett-Lester-Lackey-Buchholz-Matsuzaka rotation next season could be dominant, but Beckett is a free agent after the 2010 season and is going to be looking for Lackey-type money -- or more. Buchholz, at the same time, is a prized trade chip and could be flipped in a deal for Miguel Cabrera or Adrian Gonzalez should the Padres or Tigers fall out of contention in July or choose to hold a fire sale next winter.
The knee-jerk reaction is to believe that Buchholz now can be traded this offseason for a bat to replace Bay in the middle of the Red Sox lineup. But it's not quite that simple -- especially given the way Epstein talks about balancing the long-term and short-term of his team.
Let's assume the Red Sox trade Buchholz for a hitter and sign Beckett to a lucrative contract extension. Here's what the Red Sox rotation would look like in 2012:
1. Beckett, age 32, $15 million
2. Lester, age 29, $7.6 million
3. Lackey, age 34, $15 million
4. Daisuke Matsuzaka, $10 million
5. Casey Kelly, age 23, $0.5 million
That's $48 million for a starting rotation -- not to mention the $21 million the Red Sox would owe Cabrera or the money they'd have to pay Gonzalez to extend his contract beyond 2011.
Let's assume, then, the Red Sox let Beckett walk and install Buchholz into the starting rotation full-time. Here's what the Red Sox rotation would look like in 2012:
1. Lester, age 29, $7.6 million
2. Lackey, age 34, $15 million
3. Buchholz, age 28, $3-4 million (arbitration-eligible)
4. Matsuzaka, age 31, $10 million
5. Kelly, age 23, $0.5 million
That's $37 million or so for a starting rotation that isn't really any worse than the starting rotation above -- assuming, of course, Buchholz continues to pitch the way most expect him to pitch. All of a sudden, the Red Sox have an extra $10 million to use in the free-agent market after the 2011 season -- when, now that you mention it, Gonzalez will be free to sign with any team he wants.
(One other advantage to adding Lackey now rather than waiting for Beckett to leave and signing his replacement: The signing of Marco Scutaro meant the Red Sox already had forfeited their first-round pick and thus only forfeited a second-round pick for Lackey. If Beckett walks in 2010, the Red Sox once again can load up on draft picks a la 2005.)
Signing Lackey doesn't necessarily mean the Red Sox will trade Buchholz. Signing Lackey might just allow the Red Sox to let Beckett walk after this season -- or even to shop him on a pitching-thin trade market this winter.