Red Sox pitching locked up through 2014
Beckett, Lackey, Lester, Buchholz tough on opponents
BOSTON -- If all goes according to plan, the Red Sox can list starting pitching as an overwhelming strength for the next several seasons. Once they officially announced Josh Beckett's four-year contract extension on Monday, the Sox had four quality starters under their contractual control through 2014.
That includes Beckett, Jon Lester, John Lackey and Clay Buchholz. In addition, Daisuke Matsuzaka is signed through 2012 and Tim Wakefield, the veteran knuckleballer, has a contract that runs one more year after this one.
"It's important to identify pitching that can succeed in the American League East and make sure that we can secure it," said Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein. "If you look at free agency in the next couple of years, there's maybe one guy. It depends on how you define true top of the rotation types. Now we know we have our whole rotation wrapped up with more kids coming in the pipeline that we believe in and we can go focus in other areas while we still look for starting pitching in the [First-Year Player] Draft that can succeed at this level."
Though Epstein has often shied away from long-term deals for pitchers, a combination of events has led to the current dynamic.
"If you told me, 'Hey, some day, do you see yourself having a number of pitchers under four or five-year commitments?' I'd say, 'Probably not.' It's something that you'd probably rather avoid," Epstein said. "But it's also a unique opportunity to have a rotation like this wrapped up for this long and we're very comfortable with how it's evolved."
Beckett is excited to continue to be a focal part of it. He has set a tone which Lester has tried to emulate, and Buchholz could follow suit. Casey Kelly could be the next young gun to join the group, possibly within the next couple of years. And Lackey had a similar reputation as Beckett in his time with the Angels for fierce competitiveness and tireless work in between starts.
"I think it just goes into putting a competitive team out there," Beckett said. "I know I'm going to have a chance to win every year here and it starts with pitching and it starts with each and every one of us, on our day, going out there. I think that more than anything, that's one thing this organization has allowed to happen, is for us to get an organizational philosophy of, 'This is my day, I have to go out there and perform and do what I have to do to help this team win.'"
Beckett has embodied that philosophy as much as anyone.
"What I always tell our young pitchers is look at Josh and look at the reasons we signed him," Epstein said. "Yeah, it's for his performance on the field but it's also for the way he goes about his business and how important his routine is to him and how much he cares about preparation, how much he cares about his teammates, how he prioritizes winning over his own individual performances. That's the model.
"We tell our Minor Leaguers, if it's their first time in camp, like a Casey Kelly this year, 'Watch Josh Beckett, watch Jon Lester and learn the difference between just being a guy who goes out and takes the mound every five days and being a starting pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, so you can succeed in the American League East. There's a lot more that goes into it than just toeing the slab every five days. There's a lot of mental, physical and fundamental preparation and work that's required. [Beckett] is a great example of how to do it the right way."
Though the Red Sox signed Lackey to a five-year deal and essentially have made a five-year commitment in Beckett, that doesn't mean that Epstein has changed his philosophy when it comes to investing in pitchers.
"We still believe shorter is better," Epstein said. "We still believe in avoiding risk. But I also believe that we operate in the real world, not some sort of fantasy world where you can pick the type of player and the type of contract you want to sign him to. We have to make real world decisions that come with risk and with reward. We've done our due diligence and we're comfortable with what we've done."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.