Beckett signs 4-year, $68M extension


Josh Beckett has been saying it all along: he’s more interested in the right situation than the right salary, and now he’s backed that up. The Red Sox have called a press conference today to announce a 4-year, $68M extension with the big righty. With the deal, the Red Sox have tied up Beckett, John Lackey and Jon Lester through 2014, which ensures a strong rotation for the foreseeable future.

The timing of the announcement didn’t have to do with a hitch in the contract so much as it was a cost-cutting measure by the savvy front office. By announcing the deal after the 2010 season began, the Red Sox can count Beckett’s new salary starting in 2011 for CBT salary purposes. Nice work, lawyers.

Outlook

Last night’s start wasn’t stellar by any means, but Beckett is still an excellent pitcher. He still throws 92-95 mph heat with a plus curveball and pretty good changeup. Good stuff, but what sets him apart as a pitcher is his command of that stuff and his mental toughness. He is able to pitch day in and day out against the tough lineups in the AL East, with pretty good success. Beckett has compiled a 65-34 record with the Red Sox with a 4.08 ERA (116 ERA+) over 123 starts in the toughest division in baseball. Were he pitching anywhere else in the AL, he might have an ERA about 30 points lower, as I’ve written here.

There are some minor trends suggesting that Beckett is not as dominant as he once was. His FIP and tRA have been trending slowly upward the past three seasons, and opponents are hitting more HRs and line drives off of him in recent years. Still, he is getting roughly the same percentage of called strikes, swinging strikes and foul balls over that time period. He also has maintained a strong K rate, while keeping a well-above average walk rate:

Looking at his peripheral trends (thanks, FanGraphs!), you could make an argument that Beckett really learned how to make the most of his gifts during his 2007 season. He posted the lowest walk rate of his career by far, while maintaining consistency and health to top 200 IP for the second straight year.

Beckett has now reached that 200 IP mark three of the four seasons he’s been in Boston, compared with a high of 178.1 IP with Florida in 4 seasons, so the Red Sox really know what they’re doing with him. Plus, Boston’s newfound commitment to team defense should only help his numbers going forward. Taken all together, there’s no reason Beckett can’t continue to be a 1A or number 2 starter for the duration of this deal and pile up 60-70 more wins. He still has quite a fruitful career ahead of him.

Value

According to FanGraphs, Beckett has been worth at least $22M over each of the past three seasons; not that he would necessarily get paid that, but he’s generated that much value in terms of marginal wins and run value. So you can see that even at $15.5M/year, he’s still a worthwhile asset to Theo Epstein.

A 30-year old starting pitcher like Beckett is a valuable commodity. Good, young pitching hardly ever reaches free agency any more. Lackey was the only comparable pitcher on the market this offseason, and he got a 5-year, $85M deal. Last year, it was CC Sabathia, who got an almost preposterous 7-year, $161M deal from the Yankees. The team-friendly contract is even more impressive, considering how underpaid Beckett has been in his Boston tenure. This is clearly a win for the Red Sox, and a very solid deal for Beckett.

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