Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Signing Beckett long-term a huge investment

Consensus generally has been optimistic about the chances that Josh Beckett and the Red Sox come to some sort of agreement on a contract extension before he hits the open market next winter.

It's tough, though, to see how it would work.

The hard-throwing righty faded down the stretch but looked like a Cy Young-caliber pitcher for much of the summer, finishing the season with 17 wins and a 3.86 ERA in a career-best 212 1/3 innings. It was the third time in his four seasons with the Red Sox that he's pitched 200 or more innings, and it also was the third time in his four seasons he's recorded an ERA+ of 115 or better.

Beckett has a chance to hit the free-agent market after the 2010 season as one of the few No. 1 starters available, and No. 1 starters get their money no matter what the economic situation.

He already signed one team-friendly contract with the Red Sox. He already was unlikely to sign another team-friendly contract -- and then Theo Epstein lavished more than $80 million on John Lackey in December.

If the Red Sox are going to re-sign Beckett, they're going to have to offer him what they offered Lackey -- if not a little bit more. The only way Beckett could fit into their salary structure would be if he came at the expense of ever acquiring an impact bat for the middle of the lineup.

Consider the money the Red Sox will pay their starters in 2010:
* Beckett, $12 million
* Clay Buchholz, major-league minimum ($0.5 million)
* John Lackey, $18 million
* Jon Lester, $3.75 million
* Daisuke Matsuzaka, $8 million
Total: $42.25 million

If the Red Sox re-up Beckett for something close to Lackey money -- let's say four years, $60 million, just to be conservative -- here's what they'd have in 2011:
* Beckett, $15 million
* Buchholz, major-league minimum ($0.5 million)
* Lackey, $15.25 million
* Lester, $5.75 million
* Matsuzaka, $10 million
Total: $46.5 million

And in 2012?
* Beckett, $15 million
* Buchholz, $3 million* (arbitration estimate)
* Lackey, $15.25 million
* Lester, $7.63 million
* Matsuzaka, $10 million
Total: $50.88 million

By 2014, the Red Sox could be paying four pitchers (Beckett, Buchholz, Lackey and Lester) more than $52 million between them, a hefty sum for a team that hasn't yet opened a season with a payroll of higher than $150 million. Two of those pitchers -- the most expensive two, of course -- would be 34 and 35 years old.

Oh, and the Red Sox already have second baseman Dustin Pedroia under contract for $10 million in 2014, too.

Imagine trying to fit a bat like Miguel Cabrera (due $22 million in both 2014 and 2015) or Adrian Gonzalez (who will have no reason to settle for anything less than that) into the budget while still filling out the rest of the roster.

Best of luck with that.

There's a reason the Red Sox have fought so fiercely to hang onto Casey Kelly. There's a reason the Red Sox have invested so heavily in Junichi Tazawa. Young pitchers give a team the financial flexibility veteran pitchers don't. Buchholz and Lester still are young pitchers, but they won't be young pitchers by the time Beckett gets into the middle of a four- or five-year contract extension. Should Buchholz progress the way he looked last season like he's going to progress, the above arbitration estimate might be on the conservative side.

Investing $15 million in one pitcher in his mid-30s is risky. Investing $30 million in two pitchers in their mid-30s is borderline insane -- even for the deep-pocketed Red Sox.


floydiansea said...

If he's willing to take a pay cut, the Twins would love to have him. ;) (Let him know that I'll personally buy him a Coke if he'll come play for Minnesota.)

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Anonymous said...

Isn't Buchholz arbitration eligible after this season?

Brian MacPherson said...

According to Cot's Baseball Contracts, Buchholz only has accumulated 1 season and 59 days of major-league service, or about 1 1/3 seasons. His career statistics -- he only has 34 career starts, believe it or not -- back that number up.

Even if he stays in the major leagues throughout next season, he's going to fall short of the service time needed to become a Super Two. (At minimum, he needs 2 seasons and 86 days to be a Super Two.)

He won't be arbitration-eligible, at the earliest, until the season after next.

Anonymous said...

fair enough. not saying you're wrong (your numbers certainly check out) but then why does Cot's have him listed as Arb 1 for 2011?

Brian MacPherson said...

It won't be from here forward. I got in touch with Jeff at Cot's and pointed out what you pointed out, and he's making a fix. Buchholz won't be arb-eligible until 2012.