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Beckett contract extended

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / April 6, 2010

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The news that John Lackey had agreed to a contract with the Red Sox broke the morning of Dec. 14. Before the day was over, general manager Theo Epstein placed a call to Josh Beckett.

Epstein realized the unexpected move could be interpreted as the Red Sox tacitly acknowledging they had no plans to retain Beckett. But his message to the righthander was simple: You’re staying in Boston.

“It meant a lot,’’ Beckett said. “For them to sign Lackey and for [Epstein] to just reach out, I knew there was no reason for him to do that without there actually being some merit to it.’’

Only a few months later, Beckett has his deal. He and the Red Sox put the final touches to a four-year, $68 million extension yesterday that will take him through the 2014 season.

“It’s pretty easy when you have a strong desire to retain a player and the player has a strong desire to stay in the city,’’ Epstein said. “Those things tend to get done.’’

Beckett’s contract calls for a $5 million signing bonus and annual salaries of $15.75 million from 2011-14. By waiting until after Opening Day to announce the deal, the extension will not be factored into Major League Baseball’s luxury tax calculations until next season and could save the Red Sox as much as $882,000.

The deal averages out to $17 million a year, better than the $16.5 million Lackey will average over his five-year contract. That distinction was important for Beckett and agent Mike Moye.

For the Red Sox, it was necessary the extension was for four years and not five, as that will lessen the odds of Beckett missing games because of injury in the later stages of the contract.

“Ultimately it’s a very fair contract for both sides,’’ Epstein said.

Lackey’s deal includes a clause giving the Red Sox a sixth season at the league minimum if the pitcher undergoes reconstructive elbow surgery during the first five years of the contract.

But Beckett’s deal has no such language. His shoulder, once considered problematic, was deemed healthy enough to merit an insurance policy.

“All the testing now is better than it’s ever been,’’ Epstein said. “The commitment we made today demonstrates that. We kind of put our money where our mouth is.’’

Beckett could have commanded a five-year deal as a free agent. But he elected to take what he could get now, knowing the Red Sox would remain a contender.

“I guess I look at it differently than most people do,’’ said Beckett, who turns 30 next month. “A lot of people look at what you could lose or what you lost. I looked at what I gained here. I gained four years more of stability knowing that I’m going to be in an organization that’s going to put a competitive team out there every year. That can’t be underestimated.’’

In addition to Beckett and Lackey, the Red Sox also have lefthander Jon Lester under control for five more years. He agreed to a five-year-extension last March that includes a team option for 2014.

Daisuke Matsuzaka is signed through 2012 and Tim Wakefield until the end of the 2011 season. Clay Buchholz, the junior member of the rotation, cannot become a free agent until after 2014.

“If you don’t have this type of pitching now, it’s going to be hard to acquire it,’’ Epstein said. “Now we know we have basically our whole rotation wrapped up with more kids coming in the pipeline that we really believe in. Now we can focus on other areas.’’

Beckett’s deal also gives the Red Sox more freedom to include a young pitching prospect to obtain a player such as San Diego first baseman Adrian Gonzalez later this season or afterward.

Beckett is 106-68 with a 3.81 ERA in his career, 65-34, 4.08 with the Red Sox. He is 7-3 with a 3.07 ERA in 14 career postseason starts. Beckett started Sunday night’s season opener against the Yankees, giving up five earned runs over 4 2/3 innings in a game the Red Sox went on to win, 9-7.

Epstein was on hiatus from his position when the Red Sox traded for Beckett in 2005 and speculation long has been that he never would have approved the deal.

But it was Epstein who signed Beckett to an extension in 2006 and again yesterday.

“It’s hard to have an elite organization without excellent starting pitching,’’ Epstein said. “I think we have an even higher standard here; we need starting pitching that can succeed in the American League East. When you have that pitching, you don’t want to let it get away.’’

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