A Quick Note on Josh Beckett & John Lackey
Some of the rationale for extending Josh Beckett that I have come across hinges on comparing Beckett to his new teammate, John Lackey. This makes sense, since they are just about the same age and are similar pitchers in many regards. The conclusion most often drawn, however, looks off-base to me. Yes, the Beckett decision has a lot to do with Lackey. No, the Red Sox should not sign Josh Beckett because they signed John Lackey.
Each off-season presents its own set of challenges and opportunities. This off-season, the Red Sox thought that allocating a large chunk of their free-agent spend towards a marquee starting pitcher on the wrong side of 30 was a good idea. Since Beckett is probably a tick better than John Lackey and is himself set to enter free agency after the 2010 season, one school of thought is that the Red Sox’ logic would somehow be inconsistent were they to choose to let Beckett walk just one season after bringing aboard Lackey. It’s a dream storyline for talk radio, and you can be sure they’ll be ready to pounce in 2011 and beyond should Lackey falter and Beckett excel wearing some other uniform.
All a front office sets out to do is maximize their team’s chances for short term and long term success. And as I noted the last time I addressed the topic of a possible Beckett extension, signing pitchers over the age of 30 to long-term contracts is risky. Signing two of them, having as much as 25% of your annual payroll tied up in two aging starters, is even more risky. Should Beckett walk, it’s no indictment of his pitching. Instead, it will have simply been the wrong time for the Red Sox and Beckett to strike a long-term deal. Given a choice of Beckett or Lackey for the next five seasons, maybe Boston would have chosen Beckett if he was a free agent after 2009. But he wasn’t, Lackey was, the Red Sox wanted another pitcher and Lackey was available. Now Boston must manage their longer-term prudently, which could mean letting Beckett go.
And so while the sports radio guys salivate at the chance to tell you that “YOU HAVE TO SIGN BECKETT IF YOU SIGN LACKEY”, the reality goes something more like this. If you sign Lackey, you had better think long and hard before you decide two aging starting pitchers should account for 20-25% of your payroll. As Craig Calcaterra said on the topic, “it’s just business.”