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December 15, 2009

Prospectus Today

No Lack of Lackey

by Joe Sheehan

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John Lackey appears to have signed with the Red Sox for five years at a price in the range of $16 million per season, a total of more than $80 million. (The deal is reported by ESPN's Jayson Stark to be slightly more than what A.J. Burnett signed for a year ago.)

This is what a well-capitalized ownership group can do: use money to solve a problem, as opposed to using money and talent to do so, as is the case in trading for a pitcher such as Halladay who requires an extension. Two years ago, Lackey was a durable starting pitcher with excellent skills and the ability to apply them to run prevention. Minor injuries have chipped away at the "durable" tag the past two seasons, and diminished his perceived value as he reached free agency. On a per-inning basis, he's one of the top 15 starters in the game, and because his injuries haven't been the kind that typically take down a pitcher's career, he's less of a risk than his lowered inning totals the last two years indicate. If Lackey doesn't quite have the upside of the very best starters in baseball-he's never posted an ERA below 3.01, his career mark is 3.81, and he's received Cy Young votes in just one season of his career-he's a safe bet to provide at least 750 innings of above-average pitching over the life of the deal. That would be a win for the Red Sox.

Signing Lackey represents a change of direction for the Red Sox, who spent last winter patching their rotation with low-level free-agent signings such as Brad Penny and John Smoltz. The mixed results of that experiment may have left them cold, and led to acquiring Lackey, who carried much less short-term risk and a much higher price tag than those two players did. However, signing Lackey is something of an exercise in lilygilding; with Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, it's not clear the the Red Sox have spent $80 million on much more than their third starter next year. Throw in Clay Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka, and the Red Sox have a set five-man rotation before the calendar has flipped on 2009. That reduces the potential roles of Junichi Tazawa and Michael Bowden to fill in, or perhaps trade bait. It makes for a strange roster, with so much invested in the rotation, a deep and effective bullpen, but a set of position players that includes an expensive, subpar DH, a missing infield cornerman depending on where you assign Kevin Youkilis in the wake of a Mike Lowell trade, and a question mark in left field pending a Mike Cameron contract. A trade seems not just possible, but inevitable.

The Red Sox have long been reported to be interested in the Padres' Adrian Gonzalez, a great player on a ridiculous contract. Speculation increased when Jed Hoyer moved west to take the Padres GM job, the assumption being that his established relationship with Theo Epstein and his intimate knowledge of the Sox farm system would make the Sox a natural trading partner. In actuality, I think it makes the Sox less likely to get Gonzalez; Hoyer knows exactly what he would want in a deal like that, and the Sox seem unlikely to trade away the kind of package Hoyer would insist upon, and with Hoyer having such great knowledge of the Sox prospects, there's no gap to exploit. So many trades happen because one team thinks more or less highly of some players than the other team does; that's unlikely to be in play here. The Sox could trade for Adrian Gonzalez, perhaps building a deal around Clay Buchholz and Casey Kelly, but I just don't think the fit will be there.

No, signing Lackey frees up not the inexpensive Buchholz for a deal, but the expensive Josh Beckett. Beckett makes $12 million in 2010 and is a free agent after the season. With Lackey now in the fold along with Lester and Buchholz, plus Matsuzaka's contract in hand and Kelly on the way, it doesn't seem like the Sox and Beckett are a good match. They'll need to put their resources elsewhere rather than into a starting pitcher who might be their fourth-best come a year from now. The likelihood is that Beckett will leave as a free agent, especially if Halladay's extension moves him up in the pecking order next winter.

The Sox have a asset whose perceived value, due to his postseason success and reputation as an ace, is higher than his actual value. In four AL seasons Beckett has an ERA of 4.05, and while you can attribute some of that to his competitive environment and some to defense-Beckett's peripherals are consistently strong-the idea that he is an ace is overblown. Beckett has three 200-inning seasons in his career and three seasons with an ERA below 3.50; he's done both those things in the same year once, 2007, which is also the only season in which he's garnered Cy Young votes. He'll be 31 years old in 2011. Is any of this sounding familiar? Beckett doesn't look much like John Lackey, but their track records, right down to the Game Seven victories, are freakishly alike. The Lackey contract set the market for Beckett, and the Sox, already paying Matsuzaka and having more pitching than hitting at both the major- and minor-league levels, don't need two guys like that.

No, the Lackey contract could well lead to the availability of Beckett, and if he's not someone the Padres would want in a deal-a $12 million pitcher who's a free agent at the end of the season is anathema to them-he is someone who could be attractive to a contender with money and a short time horizon. The Mets have been eating the Phillies' dust for some time; think they wouldn't get involved here? The Dodgers need a starter to go with Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw. The Rangers have been admiring Beckett, a Texan, for years, and they have prospects coming out of their ears. There are all kinds of places to send Beckett and get good value for his services, and the Sox can take the hit; the gap between Beckett and what they'll get from Tazawa, Bowden and a mid-season trade replacement is likely to be less than $12 million and the package they'll be able to get for Beckett.

That's not what really intrigues me. No, what I'm thinking is that we've already seen two big three-team trades in the last week, and the Red Sox signing of John Lackey creates a path to a third, where the Red Sox get Adrian Gonzalez in exchange for Beckett and prospects, and a third team takes Beckett and provides additional prospects to the Padres. This re-creates the information gap that doesn't exist between the Sox and Padres by introducing a third organization. It allows the Sox to leverage their strength, starting pitching, to fix their weakness, which right now is the middle of the lineup. The third team will be getting what they'll see as a number-one starter (probably a good number two) with postseason pedigree that they can sell to their fan base. Because Beckett doesn't have the no-trade clause that Roy Halladay (and before him, Johan Santana) had, he doesn't have to be extended as part of a trade, making dealing him easier. The Padres would get the kind of franchise restart that they didn't get in the Jake Peavy deal, which is the only way they're going to deal Gonzalez. It's the kind of trade that can work for all the teams involved.

Signing John Lackey opens a door for the Red Sox, and Adrian Gonzalez is on the other side of it. We'll see if they're able to walk through.

---

I know you're probably wondering about the Roy Halladay/Cliff Lee extravaganza. When we have the final deal, and the details about the Halladay contract extension, I'll write it up, as will Christina. The details, however, are extremely important in evaluating the trade, and they've been unclear since the story broke. As I keep saying, I'm reluctant to do analysis of rumors that lack complete information, even as I see that become the dominant trend in baseball coverage. I'd rather be half a news cycle behind and do better work.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

Related Content:  Trade,  John Lackey,  The Who

41 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

sockeye

"I'd rather be half a news cycle behind and do better work."

Good. Thanks for this.

Dec 15, 2009 09:57 AM
rating: 18
 
Drew Miller
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

There are several tasty ideas out there:

1) Buchholz/Ellsbury for A-Gon/Kouzmanoff, with Boston kicking in the difference cash-wise. Boston would them move Cameron to CF until one of their young CF-worthy players (Kalish, Reddick, Westmoreland) is ready. Not sure what that does with LF, though.

and my favorite:

2) Beckett for David Wright.

Dec 15, 2009 10:00 AM
rating: -16
 
John from Bel Air

Beckett for David Wright? Not unless Omar Minaya becomes addicted to crack in the near future.

Dec 15, 2009 10:14 AM
rating: 10
 
Drew Miller
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

I have little faith in Omar Minaya doing anything that isn't the wrong thing. It's no secret that NY has been trying to run Wright out of the city, nor is it a secret that the Mets need pitching.

This is the same GM that thinks Frenchy is their starting RF, and that Oliver Perez was worth extending.

The job of a good GM is, partially, to fleece bad GMs.

Dec 15, 2009 10:49 AM
rating: -7
 
John from Bel Air

Becket is signed for one year, David Wright is signed for 3. Minaya is a bad G.M. not a panicked fantasy team owner in his first season.

Dec 15, 2009 10:53 AM
rating: 5
 
husier
(90)

Speaking of the Mets, another site reported that Jeff Francoeur said the Mets "need three or four different pieces to make us a playoff team."

Yeah, and one of those pieces is his replacement. Obviously, Francoeur has a better recognition of his team's talent than he does the strike zone.

Dec 15, 2009 21:12 PM
rating: 1
 
Rob_in_CT

These both seems like steals for the Red Sox...

Dec 15, 2009 10:15 AM
rating: 3
 
Drew Miller
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Oh look. Another burying of trade rumors I posted just because they're Boston/high-profile-team rumors (and not all my idea, either).

Get over yourselves, people. Some of you are expecting Shakespearean prose and The Greatest Idea of All Time.

Dec 15, 2009 10:43 AM
rating: -20
 
John from Bel Air

They are rated down b/c the rumors are totally unrealistic and will never.

Dec 15, 2009 12:29 PM
rating: 0
 
John from Bel Air

...happen. Forgot to add happen on the end.

Dec 15, 2009 18:28 PM
rating: 0
 
judyblum

After seeing what Cliff Lee got traded for, twice, I'm not really seeing how Beckett's going to attract "other stuff" that Hoyer's going to like much better than stuff the Red Sox have lying around that they'd be willing to trade for Gonzalez. And I'd be surprised if Hoyer and Epstein disagreed much about the value of the "other stuff", any more than they disagree about the value of the Red Sox stuff. Sorry if this is confusing.

Dec 15, 2009 10:07 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

Just a note...a reader reminded me that the Sox had re-signed Wakefield. Doesn't change the gist of the piece other that it makes them, to me, even more likely to move a starter.

Dec 15, 2009 10:13 AM
 
ScottyB

Why not have 7-8 starters you can use? Tazawa and Bowden could use AAA seasoning, Wakefield can be a long man out of the pen. Maybe one of the top guys gets injured.

Dec 15, 2009 11:24 AM
rating: 0
 
acmcdowell

I know a lot of people have brought up the idea of Wakefield as the long man, but I am not sure he can do that. I don't have the source handy, but if I am remembering right it took Wake hours to get ready for his starts. If he's the long man, he won't have that luxury, unless he is on a schedule- but if he is on a schedule, he wouldn't be worth much as a long man.

Dec 15, 2009 12:21 PM
rating: 0
 
Patrick

Wasn't he the closer for a while?

Dec 16, 2009 07:21 AM
rating: 0
 
Matt Kory

He's done just about everything a pitcher can do since he's come to Boston including close.

Dec 16, 2009 09:13 AM
rating: 0
 
Al Skorupa

He does take much longer to get warmed up these days. He is also terrible at holding runners and slow to the plate. This combined with his propensity for wild pitches/passed balls makes him a particularly bad choice for high lev relief innings.

Dec 18, 2009 15:06 PM
rating: 0
 
ddrezner

Joe,

If the Lowell trade goes through, might the Sox just decide that they'll go with, say, a Max Ramirez/Nick Johnson combo to start the year and then see what happens come the trading deadline?

I see your point about the Sox dealing from strength with starting pitching, but I can also see Theo Epstein and John Farrell vowing to themselves, "we are NOT going to have Paul Byrd pitch this year."

Dec 15, 2009 10:18 AM
rating: 0
 
Matt Kory

I don't think Ramirez will be starting in Boston. The Sox have Victor Martinez to do the catching and Varitek as a backup.

Dec 16, 2009 09:24 AM
rating: 0
 
chico123

ddrenzner, it has been reported for some time that the Red Sox have always liked Nick Johnson. I can certainly see Johnson getting most of the action at first with Vmart playing once a week. I've got to think they still love 400 OBP guys.

Dec 15, 2009 10:37 AM
rating: 1
 
Ragnhild

Even if you think Lester and Buchholz will leap ahead of him, I can't see how Beckett "...might be their fourth-best come a year from now."

Beckett is younger and has been better consistently better than Lackey over their careers...I take the point that the gap between them may not be large, but that doesn't make Lackey better

Dec 15, 2009 10:38 AM
rating: 1
 
Jay Taylor

In what way has Beckett been consistantly better then Lackey? They have the same career ERA+, but Lackey has done it in more innings in fewer seasons. That and Lackey has never had a really terrible season like Beckett's 2005.

Dec 15, 2009 10:56 AM
rating: 3
 
Matt Kory

I'm sure you are right, Joe, the Sox almost have to make a trade now. But I'd be shocked if they traded Beckett, even though you make a compelling case for it.

I guess, like you said about the Halladay/Lee deal, it comes down to the specifics. My guess is that the Sox will try to extend Beckett first (there have been talks from what I have read) and if they fail at that then they may move in the direction you mention.

Dec 15, 2009 10:43 AM
rating: 0
 
greenfrog

If Alex Anthopoulos converted Doc into Kyle Drabek, Brett Wallace, and Travis D'Arnaud, I'd say he did pretty well (and arguably better than some BP writers predicted he would). I think the key to the transaction was Halladay's willingness to agree to a Phillies-friendly extension (and the Jays' willingness to partially subsidize Doc's 2010 season). As a result, Amaro received one of the very best, and most durable, starters in the game through his age 32-36 seasons at around $18M/year.

I think the Jays held their own in the deal (assuming it's being correctly reported).

Dec 15, 2009 11:05 AM
rating: 3
 
hessshaun

Where is Wallace coming from?

Dec 15, 2009 12:34 PM
rating: -2
 
buddaley

I believe the Blue Jays turned around and traded Michael Taylor (whom they received in the Halladay deal) to the As for Wallace.

Dec 15, 2009 13:01 PM
rating: 1
 
Ragnhild

Beckett has had a lower EqERA each of the past three years.

Dec 15, 2009 11:35 AM
rating: 0
 
SpoiltVChild

Beckett has been better by every advanced metric I'm aware of. I am honestly baffled that we are talking about ERA and ERA+ here.

Dec 15, 2009 18:52 PM
rating: 1
 
Flynnbot

Vintage Joe. Different angle than everyone else, only the angle everyone else will have a few months down the line.

Dec 15, 2009 11:43 AM
rating: 1
 
amazin_mess
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Jed Hoyer taking one in the ass to help out his buddy Theo. Yeah, nothing wrong with baseball at all. Nothing.

Dec 15, 2009 14:25 PM
rating: -33
 
amazin_mess
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"It's no secret that NY is trying to run David Wright out of the city"

Lay off the drugs man. Wright isn't going anywhere...especially for an overrated Josh Beckett.

Dec 15, 2009 14:27 PM
rating: -10
 
Adam Madison

wat

Dec 15, 2009 16:54 PM
rating: 0
 
Schlom

Isn't the likelihood of the Padres trading Gonzalez less now that Dodgers may be in serious money trouble and the D-backs just gambled on Edwin Jackson. I don't think it makes sense to trade your franchise player until the Dodgers ownership situation gets settled. If it turns into a John Moores' fiasco the Padres might try to compete for the playoffs the next few seasons.

Dec 15, 2009 15:45 PM
rating: 1
 
Kman23

SD finished 17 out of first and that was with Peavy for half the season. They aren't close to competing. Even if LAD collapses (or sells players off) then Colorado & SF will still be 15 games ahead of SD. Colorado has a young team that should compete for the next half decade. SF is really young and getting better every year. Adding Bumgarner to their rotation will make them even better.

I think the NL West is going to be a 3 team race until the final day. San Diego's talent doesn't compare with LAD, COL, or SF. The Padres have a bad team, bad pitching, and a bad farm system. They need to restart and acquire as many good young players as they can.

Plus, having Gonzalez play on a 75-87 team in the biggest park in the majors is a waste. I want him to be traded somewhere else so I can see him play. He's going to compete for the HR title if he moves from SD to Boston. The wall in RF is like 150 feet closer.

Dec 15, 2009 22:59 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Another thing all these three-team trades might do is weaken the already weak free agent market, especially for middling starters who normally would've gotten a contract to fill in the fourth slot for a contending team. Teams involved in these trades will feel less pressure to make a "major move".

Dec 15, 2009 16:18 PM
rating: 1
 
Eric M. Van

Truly interesting. I think their plan A is to sign Adrian Beltre and just have the most ridiculous run-prevention team in anyone's memory, simply because I think they're appropriately skeptical about Youkilis at 3B for a long stretch of years (this is exactly the point in his career where they would be thinking of moving him the other way had they never traded for Mike Lowell).

But trading Beckett to the Rangers for a prospect haul that they pass on to the Padres -- that's a great plan B.

Dec 15, 2009 16:25 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

My biggest problem with that is how right-handed they'd be, assuming Cameron is done. You'd have to play Hermida, and maybe Kotchman, a fair amount for balance. When I think about structuring a lineup with Cameron, Beltre and Scutaro, my head hurts a little. All of a sudden, the Sox are really dependent upon Ortiz again.

I agree that the run prevention, in that world, would be sick, assuming Scutaro doesn't go pumpkin and Drew stays on the field most of the year.

Dec 15, 2009 16:49 PM
 
T. Kiefer

Hi Joe--

Is the talk about the Red Sox trying to make a move for Miguel Cabrera over and done with? I can't imagine the Tigers wanting Beckett though. What would the equation be in order for them to get Cabrera (or, perhaps better put, for the Tigers to let Cabrera go)?

Thanks!

Dec 16, 2009 07:15 AM
rating: 0
 
gjhardy

DDrezner has it right: Wasn't it just in 2008 that the Sox started the season with a great rotation and ended up with Paul Byrd pitching down the stretch? In 2006 they traded away Bronson Arroyo because they had a "surplus" of SP -- Curt Schilling, Tim Wakefield, Josh Beckett, Matt Clement, David Wells and Jonathan Papelbon --and got Willy Mo Pena (ie nothing) in return. The 2006 season ended miserably for the Sox.

The Lackey acquisition gives them a chance to move pitching prospects -- not Beckett -- for a hitter.

Dec 16, 2009 14:05 PM
rating: 0
 
andyjordan

Must say that I'm also perplexed with the assertion that Beckett could be "fourth-best" by the end of the year.

I'd put Lester at 1a, Beckett at 1b, and Lackey at 3 as of right now.

Dec 16, 2009 23:18 PM
rating: 0
 
judyblum

If you have Josh Beckett and 3 starters who are all better than him, and a good defense and bullpen, how many runs do you really need to score?

Dec 17, 2009 10:02 AM
rating: 1
 
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