Commentary

Josh Beckett not talking contract

Red Sox want him beyond his season, but will they be willing to pay?

Updated: February 25, 2010, 11:32 AM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Josh Beckett has never played a single inning of professional baseball in which he was not a millionaire.

He achieved that status at age 19 when he signed a four-year, $7 million contract ($3.625 million signing bonus) with the team that drafted him No. 2 overall, the Florida Marlins. The soon-to-be 30-year-old will have cleared in excess of $50 million by the end of this season, when his three-year, $30 million contract with the Red Sox is scheduled to expire.

Judged by the standards of the industry which determines the value of his precious right arm, Beckett has been a bargain. He was 23 when he pitched the Marlins to a World Series title in 2003, a feat he duplicated four years later with the Red Sox. Neither team would have won a ring without him.

[+] EnlargeJosh Beckett
AP Photo/Nati HarnikRed Sox pitcher Josh Beckett, whose contract expires at the end of the the season, said Sunday that he won't be talking to the media about his contract during spring training.

FanGraphs, the baseball statistical analysis Web site, has a category it calls "Dollars," which converts another stat, Wins Above Replacement, to a dollar value based on what a player might have made as a free agent. The "Dollars," in Beckett's case, totaled $119 million. (Dave Cameron of FanGraphs explains his system here.)

Whether the Red Sox add to Beckett's career earnings beyond this year, or whether he receives his paychecks from another club, is of keen interest to many people outside of his immediate family and friends.

Beckett has determined that for now, at least, it's none of their business.

"That stuff is going to work itself out,'' Beckett said here Sunday, his eyes masked by silver sunglasses. "I don't really have anything to say about contracts today or any time during spring training. And after that I don't want to let that be the focus of what I'm trying to do.''

Beckett's posture mirrors the stance adopted by the Red Sox, who assert that play-by-play is of no value whatsoever to the negotiating game.

And clearly, whatever component motivates Beckett while determining the parameters required in his next deal -- staying in Boston, the best chance to win, maximizing earning power, keeping score against other elite pitchers -- desperation will not be one of them.

If being wanted matters, Red Sox GM Theo Epstein reached out to Beckett almost immediately after the Sox signed John Lackey, a signing that in some quarters has been viewed as a hedge against Beckett leaving.

"I don't think that he would have contacted me if he didn't have some good intentions there," Beckett said.

From the Red Sox side, the man who will ultimately make that decision, John W. Henry, did not have one of his best years in his primary business. Last November, he laid off a third of the workers at his investment firm, John W. Henry & Co. But according to those who follow such matters, things are looking up, as the company has recently hired a new managing director of business.

Whatever business setbacks he sustained haven't kept Henry from bumping up the team's payroll to around $170 million, highest in club history, an increase fueled in good measure by the five-year, $82.5 million contract signed by Lackey. The average annual value of that contract, $16 million and change, is roughly what Henry is said to have paid for the right to tear down Frank McCourt's old estate in Brookline so he could build his own palace.

"We buy high and sell low," Henry once told Bloomberg News, talking of his business philosophy. "We're right 38 percent to 40 percent of the time. The key is how much money is allocated to the winning trades."

To retain Beckett, Henry almost certainly will have to buy high. Lackey's $16 million AAV sets the floor for what Beckett will be seeking, and it's hard to imagine him taking any fewer than five years.

In the first week of camp, Red Sox manager Terry Francona has repeatedly praised Beckett not only as a superb pitcher, but the leader of the staff, one whose work ethic has set the standard for the rest of the rotation. The manager seems mighty unconcerned about impacting the team's bargaining position, which could be interpreted as supreme confidence that a deal will be struck.

In the end, of course, what Francona thinks will be inconsequential in the big picture. The Sox know what they are willing to pay. Beckett knows what he wants. The twain shall meet. Or maybe they won't. Don't expect to hear much in the interim.

Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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