It appears a contract between righthander John Lackey and the Red Sox is inevitable, if it's not already complete.
Depending on who you want to believe, the veteran Angels pitcher has agreed to a five-year deal with Boston for $85 million (so says Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated) or worth slightly more than $82.5 (so says Jayson Stark of ESPN).
Either way, finalizing the deal appears to be a formality. Lackey took a physical with the Red Sox this morning, and players don't fly to a city in the dead of winter unless they're planning to sign.
If the deal is indeed complete, signing the 31-year-old righthander would be in line with Theo Epstein saying he would look to improve the team in ways beyond adding offense.
A rotation of Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, Lackey, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Clay Buchholz or Tim Wakefield would be better than what the Yankees have right now in CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte, TBA, TBA.
The deal, if there is one, also could be precursor to Buchholz being made available via trade. The Adrian Gonzalez drums will beat louder now.
Lackey was said to be seeking a Burnett-type deal, and it appears he got one. The Yankees gave him five years and $82.5 million last winter.
Lackey is 102-71 in his career with a 3.81 ERA. He is a low-maintenance "I want the ball" type of starter who missed about five starts last season with assorted health issues, including a sore elbow that shelved him at the start of the season.
But he was sharp in the playoffs, allowing five earned runs on 19 hits over 19 2/3 innings while striking out 14.
He was the winning pitcher in Game 7 of the 2002 World Series during his rookie season, and according to baseball-reference.com, the pitcher he is most similar to in baseball history is none other than Beckett.
He has struggled in his career at Fenway, for what it's worth, going 2-5 with a 5.75 ERA in nine starts. But that was against the Red Sox.
The news that the Red Sox were closing in on a deal with Lackey was broken by FoxSports' Ken Rosenthal, who confirmed an earlier Twitter report by Ed Price of AOL Fanhouse.
UPDATE, 1:46 p.m.: The most interesting aspect of this deal could be the impact it has on teams interesting in trading for Roy Halladay. Signing Lackey also helps protect the Red Sox in the event Beckett leaves as a free agent following the 2010 season.
I saw a lot of Lackey last season, covering three Angels-Yankees series during the regular season and both playoffs series the Angels were in. He's not the most elegant starter you'll ever see, but he keeps his teams in games and the Angels loved playing behind him. This move would hurt the Angels badly.
UPDATE, 2:09 p.m.: George King of the Post suggests that Lackey going to Boston will decrease the desire for the Yankees to chase Roy Halladay.
King believes the Yankees were motivated to keep Halladay away from the Red Sox, much as was the case with Johan Santana. But look for the Angels to make a deal for Halladay now. If Lackey is out, they need him.
(Note: There are multiple reports this afternoon that Halladay is headed to Philadelphia in a three-way deal that will send Cliff Lee to the Mariners.)