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Baseball Notes

Lengthy deal for Beckett requires medical attention

By Nick Cafardo
February 7, 2010

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A five-year, $82.5 million deal for Josh Beckett - the same thing former Marlins teammate A.J. Burnett and current teammate John Lackey got - seems logical for the free-agent-to-be. Right now, it’s not going to happen in Boston.

That’s an opinion rather than pure fact, but one based on the way the Red Sox have operated the past few years.

The Sox could invoke a Bill Parcells-like “I reserve the right to change my mind’’ if Beckett was to have an outstanding season, but think more along the lines of Roy Halladay’s three-year, $60 million extension, minus $6 million-$8 million. That’s about as long a deal as the Sox would feel comfortable with.

Why not the same as Lackey?

The difference, according to some in the baseball medical community, is that the chance of coming back full strength is far better with Tommy John surgery than rotator cuff surgery. The Red Sox found there was enough concern about the wear and tear on Lackey's elbow to warrant contract protection for the elbow. They did it in a very creative manner, which was subject to approval by both Major League Baseball and the Players' Association in that the team can pick up a sixth-year option at the minimum salary if Lackey undergoes Tommy John surgery anytime during the five-year stint.

The Sox, who broke new ground with the Lackey deal that other teams will likely follow, are apt to seek the same kind of protection in any deal for Beckett, but the concern with him would be the shoulder.

Don’t forget that signing Beckett to a three-year, $30 million deal in 2006 (with an option year) was a tough decision at the time. The Phillies threw in an option year for Halladay, who also has much wear on his right shoulder, but he will have to prove his health to get it. He’ll have to throw 225 innings in 2013 or a total of 415 innings in 2012 and 2013, and he can’t be on the disabled list at the end of the 2013 season.

“What the Red Sox are doing is good business,’’ said an executive with a competing team. “Their offers are all very competitive, and if a player wants to play for a team like Boston, then he’ll take the deal with the provisions. I think it shows you how much Lackey wanted to play for the Red Sox, where you have a chance to win every year.’’

Now, there could always be a team out there desperate to sign a No. 1 starter that will throw caution to the wind and offer Beckett a deal similar to Lackey’s and Burnett’s. If that happens, the Sox will thank him for his service and move on, as they did with Jason Bay.

The Sox are expected to have the second-highest payroll in baseball at nearly $170 million, and about $46 million of that will be devoted to six starting pitchers. But the message they’re sending is simple: If there are medical concerns, we’re going to protect our investment. Go along with it, great. If not, we’ll move on.

Lackey and J.D. Drew gave much thought to whether they should sign such a provision, but in the end, they thought playing in Boston was worth the risk. Bay didn’t feel that way; he remained steadfast that there was nothing wrong with his knees (even though he had a history of patella tendinitis in Pittsburgh) or shoulder. And today he’s proud to be a Met.

Of course, with any player who has been around for a while, there will be shoulders and knees and elbows and hips that probably have some damage. If you’re offering only a one- or two-year deal (as the Sox did with Adrian Beltre), the risk is less, but anything over two years will require some creativity.

Which is why the Sox should wait on a Beckett extension and even explore the possibility of a free-agent-to-be like Cliff Lee. He was a pitcher the Sox looked into at the trading deadline, and he has a history with pitching coach John Farrell from their Cleveland days.

Former elite pitchers Ben Sheets (Oakland) and Brandon Webb (Arizona) have already had their shoulder episodes and could become viable free agent options after the 2010 season. Roy Oswalt, who is signed through 2011, may be willing to waive his no-trade rights for the right situation if the Astros go into rebuilding mode under Brad Mills.

Also factoring into a decision on Beckett will be the development of Clay Buchholz, the comeback of Daisuke Matsuzaka, and the progress Casey Kelly makes in the minors.

If Beckett does leave, all of the pieces from the famous 2006 Hanley Ramirez deal with the Marlins will be gone. It was a deal made with a lot of guts but it gained the Sox much glory in that second world championship.

For years, teams have gotten burned by pitchers breaking down after getting a boatload of money and a long-term deal. The Sox have decided they are no longer going to be one of them.

LINING UP WELL
In new house, Twins have things in order
Guess who’s going to be good again. Yup, the “other’’ team in Fort Myers: the Twins.

They added power-hitting shortstop J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson to the middle infield, have Justin Morneau returning, and it looks as though Joe Mauer is going to be a Twin for a long time. With a payroll jumping from $65 million to $96 million, they will move into quaint Target Field in downtown Minneapolis and should be in the middle of the AL Central race again.

“We think we did some good things, but we’ve got a lot of work to do,’’ said general manager Bill Smith. “We think Orlando Hudson is a very good player who gives us great defense and fills the role as a No. 2 hitter. We really think he fits our team.

“So now we have [Denard] Span and Hudson up top, and Mauer and Morneau in the 3-4 hole, and Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel and Hardy and Delmon Young.

“We have four starters set with Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Carl Pavano, and Kevin Slowey. The fifth spot is up for grabs between Francisco Liriano, who pitched very well in the Dominican this winter but now has to transfer that to spring training and the regular season, Brian Duensing, who pitched very well last year, and Glen Perkins, who is healthy again. So we have good depth, and our bullpen is also sound.’’

Smith also signed veteran slugger Jim Thome as a bench bat, though he expects Thome to get opportunities.

“It’s up to Gardy [manager Ron Gardenhire] how he uses him, but I would expect he could give Kubel a day off once in a while, and we certainly know we have a hitter who can win a game off the bench and protect us if we have an injury.’’

Smith said the team did its homework on Hudson’s left wrist, which doesn’t bend fully and can inhibit him on backhanded plays. “We’re OK with it,’’ said Smith.

The Dodgers weren’t, though. They thought the wrist affected him hitting the inside pitch, and in the field, he had to shade toward the left side to accommodate it. They also believe that Hudson prefers to hit down in the order.

PITCHING CHANGE
Peterson puts system in place in Milwaukee
Dueling genius pitching coaches in the NL Central?

Rick Peterson (left), who has taken over as the Brewers pitching coach and coordinator, may give longtime Cardinals guru Dave Duncan a run for his money as Mr. Fix-It.

Peterson has brought a system-wide analytical program to the Brewers, who have improved their rotation with the addition of free agent lefties Doug Davis and Randy Wolf.

“I think we have seven or eight starters with major league experience, so we have good depth,’’ said Peterson.

Asked whom his “projects’’ will be, Peterson said, “I really don’t approach it that way. If there’s a young pitcher who hasn’t quite made his mark yet, I’ll just take a look at things he does well and find a way that he can repeat those things that make him successful.

“For a veteran who has lost his way, I’ll just go back to what made him successful and keep emphasizing those good things. It’s pretty simple.’’

Jeff Suppan falls into the latter category. His best years were under Duncan in St. Louis in 2004 and ’05, when he won 16 games each season.

Peterson may have a budding star in righty Yovani Gallardo. He was 13-12 with a 3.73 ERA last season, and with a little refining, he could emerge as a bona fide No. 1.

“What’s impressive about Yovani are the averages against him third time around the order,’’ said Peterson. “There are very few pitchers in baseball who can sustain success a third time around the order, and Yovani is one of them.

“But he put too many hitters on base without them swinging the bat [94 walks], and that’s something we have to look at.’’

The Brewers’ rotation could have three or even four lefties. Davis and Wolf will likely join Manny Parra and possibly the rehabbing Mark Mulder, who hasn’t officially signed yet.

Peterson was Mulder’s pitching coach in Oakland and worked with him this offseason on his comeback.

Etc.

Apropos of nothing
1. Big-market owners really like John Henry’s idea of a competitive-balance tax to replace the luxury tax; 2. Jacoby Ellsbury will wear No. 2 this season; 3. Never thought Kevin Millar (Cubs) would sign before Johnny Damon; 4. For the first time in 38 years, the man who presided over some of the best-hitting Red Sox teams, batting coach Ron Jackson, is not employed by a major league organization - amazing; 5. The Twins will have a higher payroll than the Dodgers this year.

Updates on nine
1. Noah Lowry, LHP, free agent - While the Sox went to watch his recent workout, they don’t appear interested in signing him. In fact, they indicated that they’re likely done with spring training invitations. One intriguing name was former Padres outfielder Brian Giles, a longtime Theo Epstein favorite, but the Sox feel they have enough outfielders.

2. Troy Glaus, 1B, Braves - A National League coach said, “If he gets 500 at-bats, he’s going to hit the ball out 30 or 40 times. In that ballpark, when it warms up, he’ll be fine. He does go into slumps, and you have to accommodate that.’’ Glaus (left), who has played more games at shortstop (18) than first base (6), will likely get some tutelage from Jimy Williams in spring training. Glaus, who was named in an SI.com story in 2007 as a player who accepted shipments of steroids, is coming off foot and shoulder surgery.

3. Manny Ramirez, OF, Dodgers - Third base coach Larry Bowa says the team has to watch him closely this year, because last year Ramirez wore down quickly and didn’t have his usual pop. “When he came back to us last year, he looked a bit lost, and it took him a while to get things going,’’ said Bowa. “I know he wants to play another three or four years, so this is an important year for him.’’ Ken Gurnick of MLB.com reported that Ramirez was considering not picking up his $20 million option and instead returning to the American League to DH. That’s where he may be headed in 2011.

4. Jacoby Ellsbury, LF, Red Sox - An observation by Bowa: “Love the way that kid plays the game. He’s got one of the quickest first steps I’ve seen in center field. Man, is he fast.’’ When asked about Boston’s decision to play Mike Cameron in center and switch Ellsbury (above) to left, Bowa said, “Mike Cameron is a very good center fielder and a great guy to have on a ball club, and he’ll do very well at Fenway Park, but I’m just saying that kid is really fun to watch in center field.’’

5. Felipe Paulino, RHP, Astros - Among the challenges facing manager Brad Mills in his inaugural season, Paulino has to be atop the list. Paulino, who can hit the century mark with his fastball, evidently has finally bought into conditioning. Now if he can improve his curveball to go along with his heat, Paulino could make life more tolerable for Mills.

6. Tim Lincecum, RHP, Giants - The feeling of two major league executives is that he will settle with the Giants before going to arbitration even though for the moment there’s a bit of rancor. The team’s number is $8 million and Lincecum has come in at $13 million, and after two Cy Youngs, I’d be racing to the hearing room if I were Lincecum. “Both sides will take the road less thorny,’’ said one executive, “but if you believe in your number, defend it. Ryan Howard did and he won.’’

7. Kevin Millar, PH, Cubs (left) - One major league source indicated that the Cubs, after the Milton Bradley fiasco last season, want a character guy in the clubhouse, someone who can create a loose feeling and bring players together. Millar’s minor league deal is just as much about that as it is his pinch-hitting ability.

8. Drayton McLane, Astros, owner - He recently took a bid from a group led by Harvey Schiller and Marc Isaacson to purchase the team, but when the Jan. 31 deadline for exclusivity passed, it was obvious the group couldn’t quite muster the $700 million it would likely take to pry the team from McLane. Someone will have to overpay for McLane to part with the Astros, but with the Rangers recently going for about $575 million, it’s awfully difficult for any group to get into the $700 million range in this economy.

9. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Padres - It’s getting confusing. President Jeff Moorad said last week it’s unlikely the Padres can afford to sign Gonzalez (left) when his deal expires in two years. On the other hand, GM Jed Hoyer is in no hurry to deal him. Translation, according to an NL GM: “He’ll be available at the trading deadline. That’s when the next push will come, and if it’s a good deal, it would be hard to say no, given that they know they can’t sign him.’’

Short hops
From the Bill Chuck files: “Six-foot-11-inch Jon Rauch may be the tallest pitcher in the bigs, but he will be the second-tallest in Twins camp, looking up to 7-1 Loek van Mil from the Netherlands.’’ Also, “Terry Francona and his dad Tito each faced Hall of Fame pitchers Don Sutton (Terry outhit Tito, .333 to .095), Fergie Jenkins (Terry outhit Tito, .333 to .273), Nolan Ryan (Terry outhit Tito, .225 to .200), Phil Niekro (Terry outhit Tito, .250 to .000), and Tom Seaver (Terry outhit, Tito .364 to .231). Overall against Hall of Famers, Tito was 122 for 490, hitting .249, while Terry was 25 for 90, hitting .278 . . . Happy birthday Carney Lansford (53) and Juan Pizarro (73).

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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