If you are a Red Sox fan -- and that includes a lot of folks spread around the globe -- you're feeling pretty good about the starting rotation for 2010. The Sox have a trio of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and John Lackey in the 1-2-3 spots and they think the strength of the starters might put them ahead of the Yankees this season.
My advice is to enjoy it while it lasts. I don't believe Beckett will be part of the mix in Boston after this season.
Admittedly, I am usually wrong about these things. I'm the guy who picked Peyton Manning and the Colts as a lock to win the Super Bowl and I loaded up on Toyota stock in 2009. Many scribes, including SI.com's estimable Jon Heyman, are saying that the Sox and Beckett will come to terms on a contract extension sometime in the next two weeks before the Sox play the Yankees in the season-opener on Easter Sunday night.
Beckett came to the Sox in the tumultuous winter of 2005-2006, during the dark days after Theo Epstein quit. While Theo was touring the world with Pearl Jam, Boston acquired Beckett and third baseman Mike Lowell from the Florida Marlins in exchange for shortstop Hanley Ramirez.
We'll never know if the deal would have been consummated had Epstein been on the job in Boston. Ramirez was a Theo favorite and has rewarded that faith by emerging as a legitimate triple-crown threat.
But this was a deal which clearly helped both teams. Lowell rebounded from a horrid 2005 season with the Marlins and emerged as Boston's World Series MVP when the Sox swept the Rockies in 2007.
All Sox fans know that Beckett is the man who delivered that flag to Boston. He was 20-7 in 2007, then went 4-0 with a 1.20 ERA in four postseason starts.
Unfortunately it was his only dominating campaign in four seasons with the Sox. In 2006 Beckett went 16-11 with a 5.01 ERA which he labeled "embarrassing.'' He was 12-10 in an injury-plagued 2008, and 17-6 last season when many Sox fans felt he dropped beneath Lester at the top of the Sox pitching pyramid. Lester got the ball for Game 1 of the Division Series against the Angels.
Then came Boston's off-season signing of free agent Lackey and the farewell song to Jason Bay. These are both bad omens when accessing the possibility of Beckett re-upping beyond 2010.
Lackey got five-years and $82.5 million. This was stunning. The Sox have been reluctant to commit beyond three years to any player, especially a pitcher in his 30s. Boston feels burned the $100-plus million invested in bringing Daisuke Matsuzaka to Boston. Daisuke went 18-3 in his second season with the Sox, but has been a disappointment overall and will start this season on the disabled list.
The Sox lost slugger Bay last winter because they didn't want to go for the extra years and had concerns about Bay's defense and his ability to hold up physically. The Sox are looking for "injury protection" with all long-term contracts. This philosophy sent Bay packing and might do the same for Beckett. He turns 30 in May and has spent considerable time on the disabled list in his eight major league seasons.
That's why I have my doubts about Beckett pitching in Boston beyond this season. The Sox are still on the hook for Dice-K dollars and just committed $82.5 million to Lackey, who is not at good as Beckett. Beckett saw the huge dough showered on CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett after the 2008 season and is unlikely to settle for less than Lackey.
Everyone is saying the right things. Epstein reached out to Beckett after the Lackey signing and has been talking with Beckett's agent, Michael Moye, this spring.
Beckett made this opening statement when he got to Florida:
"That stuff is going to work itself out and I'm not really too concerned with it and I don't have anything to say about contract stuff ... I don't think I'll have anything to say at all during spring training. I don't want that to be the focus of what I'm trying to do.''
The big righty has honored his word, saying nothing about his contract since that day.
The Red Sox allegedly have a policy about not negotiating once the season starts, but it's a rule that's was ignored in July 2006 when Beckett was signed to a three-year extension (with an option for 2010) on the day he beat the Royals, 1-0.
The Sox at this hour have the deepest rotation in baseball with Beckett, Lester, Lackey, Clay Buchholz and Tim Wakefield.
Beckett doesn't get caught up in "Who's no. 1?'' talk.
"To me, the ace is whoever pitches that day,'' he said,
To me, the ace is Beckett. For maybe just one more year.