Commentary

Beckett will be free agent after 2010

Updated: November 7, 2009, 1:06 AM ET
By Peter Gammons | ESPNBoston.com

Josh Beckett told WEEI.com that he wants to come to Boston in the next couple of weeks to get a reading on the club's feelings about an extension when his contract expires after next season.

Beckett is highly respected by the Boston staff. He is the gunslinger who relishes the role of the No. 1 starter. His between-start bullpen sessions are clinics in diligent perfection; he is accountable and always the toughest guy in the room.

But Beckett clearly is looking at the money the Yankees paid CC Sabathia ($161 million over seven years) and thinking he, too, can make between $15 million and $20 million. That will be a very tough call for the Red Sox, not much different from the call the Angels were required to make on John Lackey.

Sabathia was 28 on Opening Day 2009; Beckett will be 31 on Opening Day 2011. Sabathia is left-handed in a left-handed park, and he was a centerpiece for the opening of a spectacular new stadium. He was rationally signable because the Yankees had pared so much from their payroll. Sabathia did not disappoint, either, tying for the league lead in wins (19) and finishing fourth in ERA (3.37) and innings pitched (230), then winning three games in the postseason while allowing eight earned runs in 36 1/3 innings (1.98 ERA) with a 32-9 strikeout-walk ratio.

Josh Beckett
AP Photo/Winslow TownsonBoston has a tough decision to make on Josh Beckett.

If Beckett at 30 can stay away from the back, oblique, elbow or shoulder ailments that have sidetracked him, he could win 20 games and pitch the Red Sox deep into October 2010. But tie on five years and that carries him through the age of 35. It's a very difficult call for the Red Sox.

As much as anyone who knows Beckett believes in him and his ability to rise to any occasion, there are some facts to consider:

• His earned-run average in his four years with Boston is 4.05.

• He has accepted the role of postseason warrior and was brilliant in both 2003 and 2007 as he led the Marlins and Red Sox to world championships, but in the past two postseasons he has one win, and in 21 innings he has more earned runs allowed (18) than strikeouts (17).

• In his past two regular seasons he is 29-16, 3.93.

• Include his great 2007 season (20-7, 3.27) and he is the third-winningest pitcher in baseball the past three seasons. The comparisons with the other two win leaders:

Pitching in the AL East accounts for some of the ERA difference with Sabathia, but CC did pitch this past season in New York and was in pennant races in 2007 and 2008. The 136 2/3-inning difference is significant.

Is it possible that if the Red Sox find they and Beckett's agent, Michael Moye, are speaking two different languages they would consider trading Beckett? Sure, but it is highly unlikely. The argument for it is that they would move on with Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz at the top of the rotation and prospect Casey Kelly a year from arrival, but what does that do for 2010, even if they were to sign a Ben Sheets or acquire a Javier Vazquez contract?

Would the Phillies trade Cole Hamels, big-time prospect Domonic Brown and another prospect for Beckett, then decide whether to sign Cliff Lee or Beckett before they're free agents next November? Probably not, as they refused to trade the 22-year-old Brown last July in a deal for Halladay. Would the Dodgers trade Chad Billingsley, Russell Martin and a top prospect for Beckett if the Red Sox made the finances right for L.A.? Maybe, maybe not, and there are concerns about Billingsley, as well as anything that might cost the Dodgers money. Texas won't part with its warehouse of minor league talent. Otherwise, the market may be thin.

So chances are unless there is some unexpected understanding, Beckett plays out 2010 and hits the free-agent market with Lee and Halladay. Red Sox fans will have, as little Tommy Rush from New Hampshire would say, no regrets, because Josh Beckett has brought presence, fire and a world championship to New England, and could do the same next season.

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