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The long and shorted of it

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  March 30, 2010 09:04 AM

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Of course the Red Sox would consider a six-man rotation. How better to dilute the stats of their ace?

Fewer starts could mean fewer wins for Josh Beckett, meaning the Red Sox would have the upper hand come contract negotiations with the potential free agent come November.

Brilliant.

Of course, the Red Sox could do the easy thing and simply sign Beckett to an extension before the 2010 season begins Sunday night against the Yankees at Fenway Park. But their apparent refusal to tack on a fifth year to any potential deal has ruffled Beckett's penmanship. After all, why would the team go beyond four when it'll certainly have more dead money to pay some other team to have Julio Lugo/Edgar Renteria/Mike Lowell play there?

John Lackey, the guy Theo Epstein signed to replace Beckett, then told Beckett that he didn't sign him to replace him, even if that's essentially the case (ironically, sneak a peek at Beckett's similar player score), received a five-year deal, mind you, and is a year older. But according to ESPN Boston's Gordon Edes, "long-term concerns about Beckett's right shoulder have dissuaded the Red Sox from going to a fifth year."

Yes, it's a big concern. The Red Sox only give deals longer than four years to pictures of health like JD Drew, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Lackey.

In case you're a long-term sort person, here's a list of potential free agents the Red Sox could give a five-year deal to next winter: Brandon Webb, Cliff Lee, Tim Hudson, and Jamie Moyer, who would only be 53 by the time the deal expired. Fewer injury concerns though.

The refusal on the Red Sox' part to go to five years makes little sense on so many levels. If the fifth year is so concerning, why even be willing to go four? Does the rotator cuff magically disintegrate during the winter of 2014? And if the Red Sox can predict this, can they also give me an estimate on what I'm looking at to put two kids through school sometime around 2028?

When the Red Sox balked at giving Pedro Martinez the fourth year the Mets eventually awarded him, it turned out to be a sound business decision, but Pedro was two years older (32) at that juncture than Beckett is now with a much longer list of injury concerns. Beckett has had his blisters and obliques, but never have we worried about him breaking down due to his frame. The guy has pitched more than 200 innings three of his four seasons here.

Despite winning 17 games last season, Beckett struggled down the stretch, and was roughed up in Game 2 of the ALDS vs. the Angels. He's no longer the ace of the staff, a status that Jon Lester swiped from him last season, but he's an ace no doubt, one of three the Red Sox employ.

But he's their guy, and for whatever strange reason, the Red Sox seem more apt to add new blood than sign their own players to long-term deals unless they happen to be young pups that the team can sway with security. Then again, seeing as Lowell is probably the last big-name guy they actually re-signed, maybe there's something to that. Remember, the Red Sox pulled this stunt with Lowell in 2007, offering him one fewer year than the Phillies, and were probably surprised when he decided to return to Boston. I guess it's good PR to show the fans you're trying, knowing all along your offer is too short to get things done. (See Bay, Jason.)

Maybe that's what you do with guys you don't want any longer. After all, the shiny, new toy is only as far away as next offseason's free agent market. And the Red Sox certainly seem to be about the shiny, new toy until they ultimately get bored with it and pay someone else to play with it. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

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About the Author

Eric Wilbur is a Boston.com sports columnist who is still in awe of what Dana Kiecker pulled off that one time in Toronto. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and three children. Comments and suggestions for the best Buffalo wing spots are encouraged.

Contact Eric Wilbur by e-mail or follow him on Twitter.

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