Beckett is entering the final year of his contract, slated to make $12.1 million this season, and along with Mariners lefthander Cliff Lee would be the most sought after starting arm in the free agent class of 2011. For most of his career, Beckett, riding the reputation of postseason performances, has been known as a money pitcher. We're about to find out if the Sox and general manager Theo Epstein see him as one.
This is a deal that needs to get done before the season, so the occasionally irascible Beckett doesn't have to answer questions about his future after every start, and the Sox can go into the season knowing that if they do indeed have to give up Clay Buchholtz to get Adrian Gonzalez, who doesn't look long for sunny San Diego, they're dealing from a long-term position of strength and not scrambling to replace two-thirds of their rotation next off-season or rushing Casey Kelly to the bigs.
By now, we all realize that Beckett isn't Pedro Martinez. That advance billing was unfair, although not as ridiculous as hailing Daisuke Matsuzaka as the Pedro of the Pacific Rim. You can quibble about what classifies an "ace" in major league baseball today. There is a difference between a No. 1 starter who anchors a rotation and a true ace, which is what Martinez, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, and Greg Maddux all were in their primes.
If you asked me how many proven aces there are today in major league baseball, I'd say less than five. Those worthy of the Big A are Tim Linecum, Roy Halladay, CC Sabathia, and a healthy (which is a big if) Johan Santana. White Sox hurler Jake Peavy has the stuff, but needs to prove he can pitch outside of the pitcher-friendly confines of Petco Park. If Kansas City Royals pitcher and 2009 AL Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke can put together another transcendent season, he makes the list as well.
Pitchers like Lee, and his Mariners teammate Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander of the Tigers, haven't done it long enough or consistently enough to earn the ace appellation just yet.
Yet, Hernandez got a five-year, $78 million deal from Seattle this offseason, and Verlander just received a five-year, $80 million deal from the cash-strapped Tigers.
Which brings us back to Beckett. What is he worth? Most agree it's as least as much as the Sox shelled out for fellow Texan John Lackey (five years, $82.5 million). I'd say that five years, $90 million is not unfair for Beckett.
He is not worth the bounty that Halladay, who got a three-year, $60 million extension after being shipped to Philadelphia, or Sabathia, who had the Brinks truck backed up to bring him to the Bronx at $23 million per season, but should get more than the $82.5 million over five years that the Sox shelled out for John Lackey.
Whether Beckett is an ace, a No. 1 or something in between is debatable. What is not is that he is a front-line starter who can pitch in Boston and succeed in the American League East. Those guys are hard to find. Carl Pavano, Javier Vasquez (the first time) and Matt Clement all couldn't do it.
Beckett, who turns 30 in May, has a career .609 winning percentage. That is 11th best among active pitchers, but it's really 10th because the list includes Martinez, a time-share pitcher at this point. (Randy Johnson is on the list, but he retired.)
The Red Sox already got a bargain once with Beckett signing him to a three-year, $30 million extension in the middle of the 2006 season (the deal had an option for 2010, which Beckett vested by making more than 55 starts over the past two seasons).
Beckett was struggling then, in his first season with the Sox, posting an ERA of 5.01 and serving up 36 home runs. Their faith was rewarded when Beckett bounced back with a dominating 2007, winning 20 games for the first time in his career and dominating the postseason in a manner Clemens never did with a script B on his cap to lead the Sox to their second World Series title.
It's hard to imagine Beckett, being the latter-day Clemens, running wind sprints in the outfield at City of Palms Park and tuning out Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein with his iPod, but after watching what happened to Jason Bay, he must be leery of waiting until after the season to settle things with the Sox.
The Sox under Epstein have a little bit of a history of becoming enamored with somebody else's players and overlooking their peccadillos while obsessively fixating and overanalyzing the flaws of their own players.
The Beckett detractors will point to him wilting like a begonia the last two seasons. In the first half of 2008, Beckett was 9-5 with a 3.94 ERA. In the second half, troubled by an oblique strain, he was 3-5 with a 4.19 ERA and opponents' batting average went up from .245 to .276.
In the first half last year, Beckett was 11-3 with a 3.35 ERA and 104 hits allowed in 121 innings pitch. In the second half, he went 6-3 with a 4.53 ERA and surrendered more hits (94) than innings pitched (91 1/3). Opponents batting average against him jumped from .230 to .263.
Before his start in Game 2 of the ALDS against the Angels, Beckett needed cortisone shots to soothe back spasms.
The other question is whether Beckett is even the team's No. 1 starter any more. Jon Lester got the call and the ball in Game 1 against the Angels.
Still, if the Red Sox are serious about run prevention, then they'll prevent from Beckett from testing free agency.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.