This should hardly come as a surprise, but the Red Sox have exercised their 2009 option on pitcher Tim Wakefield. A formal announcement was made by general manager Theo Epstein this afternoon.
Though Wakefield pitched poorly in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series against the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park, allowing five runs in 2 2/3 innings, he remains one of the best bargains in baseball.
The 42-year-old has a unique rollover contract that guarantees him an annual salary of $4 million each time the club picks up an option. When the Sox do so, they immediately receive another option for the following season, in this case 2010.
Wakefield underwent a physical exam earlier this week, clearing the final hurdle for the club to bring him back for a 15th season. He has already had the longest continuous stint by a pitcher in team history.
The knuckleballer, who debuted with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1992 and joined the Red Sox in '95, posted a 10-11 record and a 4.13 earned run average in 30 starts this season. He ranked second on the staff and third in the American League with a .228 opponents batting average against. He was second on the club in starts and innings (181.0) and fourth in strikeouts (117).
He is second in club history with 1,797 career strikeouts, 367 starts and 504 appearances and third with 164 wins and 2,581.2 innings. He is the only Red Sox pitcher ever with at least 500 games and 350 starts in his career and the 23d hurler in major league history to reach those milestones with the same team.
With Wakefield inked, the Sox ensure that the front four starters from their rotation will be back for 2009. At the moment, Wakefield will fill the No. 4 spot behind Daisuke Matsuzaka (No. 3), Jon Lester (No. 2) and Josh Beckett (No. 1). The club has a number of starters that could compete for the No. 5 position, including Clay Buchholz, Justin Masterson, and Michael Bowden.
All of that suggests that the Sox will not be suitors for the high-priced pitchers available on the free agent market, a group that includes CC Sabathia, Ben Sheets and Derek Lowe. Of course, if the Sox are required to deal some pitching to fill any holes in their lineup, they might then be willing to enter the bidding for a middle- or back-of-the-rotation starter.
As things stand, first baseman Mark Teixeira still seems like Sox' primary target this offseason. Teixeira filed for free agency yesterday but cannot begin discussing financial terms with suitors until after the 15-day filing period ends at midnight on (or the morning of) Nov. 14.
(Chad Finn of the Globe staff contributed to this report.)