A new report on ESPN.com today indicates that the Red Sox are close to signing a 4-year deal with pitcher Josh Beckett. He is currently in the final year of his 2006 extension. The question is, is it worth it to re-sign him?
The first step to answering this question lies in his stats for the past 4 years. If we look at how he’s performed, we come across an interesting pattern: In even-numbered years, he has not performed nearly as well as he has in odd-numbered years. In his first year with the Sox, 2006, he had an ERA over 5.00. While he had 16 wins that season, he also had 11 losses, the most of any year with the Red Sox. He followed that up with a much more productive 2007. This was by far his best season, where he went 20-7 with an ERA in the low threes. This was also the year the Red Sox won the World Series and he was the ALCS MVP (as a part of a generally phenomenal postseason where he went 4-0 and had an ERA under 2.00). But then he took a step back in 2008, going just 12-10 with an ERA over 4.00 again (he also had an ERA over 8.50 for the playoffs that year). But he looked much stronger in 2009, going 17-6 with an ERA under 4.00 once again. While he was not as good in the postseason as 2007, he had a stronger performance than 2008 (5.40 ERA). The end conclusion is that Beckett has only been good for Boston about half of the time he has been here. The rest of the time he is still above average (remember, 16-11, 12-10 in 2006 and 2008 respectively), but he is not the dominant pitcher the Sox were hoping to get.
So if the Sox pick Beckett up for another 4 years beginning with the 2011 season, what are they really going to get? Beckett’s not at the point where age is really a factor yet, although by the end of the new contract he’ll be 35. So if we take into account the good-year bad-year deal, we should get decent seasons out of him when he’s 32 (2011) and 34 (2013), whereas the 2012 season will probably be average and the 2014 season may be a disaster. So in reality, the Sox are looking at $65-70 million (according to ESPN.com) for 2 strong years, an o.k. year, and a probably bad year from Josh Beckett.
Whether or not this is worth it depends a lot on what his role will be. Right now, he and Jon Lester are the co-aces of the team, with John Lackey in third and a battle between the likes of Daisuke, Wakefield, and Buchholz for the final two slots. As the seasons progress, we should see Lester continue to mature into a true ace and emerge as the #1 starter for the Sox. Wakefield will inevitably retire, and Buchholz will eventually get his shot and probably wind up as the #3 pitcher. Lackey will be #4, as he will be much older by this point, and the Sox will probably have someone new in the 5-slot, unless Daisuke figures out how to pitch again. So that leaves Josh Beckett firmly in the #2 position for the Red Sox. I think the money is a little much for a #2 pitcher at best who is only going to give you 2, maybe 3 years out of his 4 year deal. But then again, what superstar’s contract isn’t overblown? It’s just the nature of the game. Beckett has a history of gearing up for the big games, and you need that to pitch in Boston, where every game is a big game.
In the end, I say keep him. So few players come to Boston and flourish. Even if Beckett struggles in the even years, that still leaves two solid seasons where he is a legitimate Cy Young candidate and would be capable of helping the Sox get back to the World Series. Plus, if we don’t sign him, the Yankees probably will.