BOSTON — The Red Sox appear to have the top of their rotation set for the next five years. The rest of it is in pretty good shape, too.
The Red Sox agreed Monday to a $68 million, four-year contract extension with No. 1 starter Josh Beckett, a deal that figures to keep him in Boston pitching alongside free agent acquisition John Lackey through 2014. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are also under the team’s control for five more seasons.
“It’s hard to have an elite organization without excellent starting pitching,” Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said. “When you have that starting pitching, you don’t want to let it get away. It’s hard to acquire in free agency. It’s hard to acquire in trades. And it’s hard to draft and develop this kind of starting pitching. … That’s the biggest building block on which we can go about finishing off the rest of the club.”
The 29-year-old Beckett, earning $12.1 million this season in the option year of an extension he signed in 2006, gets a $5 million signing bonus and annual salaries of $15.75 million. The former World Series MVP and Cy Young Award runner-up said he did not press for a fifth year like the Red Sox gave Lackey because he was happy to stay with a team that will be competitive.
“This is a special place. I think everybody that’s had a chance to play here knows that,” Beckett said Monday at Fenway Park news conference, a day after pitching the season opener against the New York Yankees.
“A lot of people look at what you lost. I look at what I gained. I look at four more years of stability, knowing I’m going to be on a winning team. The season gets old when you’re losing 90 games. I know I’m going to have a chance to win every year here.”
The MVP of the 2003 World Series for Florida and a key part of Boston’s 2007 title, Beckett was tabbed to start Sunday night’s major league opener against the New York Yankees. He allowed five runs and eight hits in 4 2-3 innings in Boston’s 9-7 victory.
By announcing the deal after the season started, Beckett’s extension isn’t included in luxury tax calculations until 2011. If the Red Sox announced it before the opener, it would have raised his average annual pay when this year’s payrolls are calculated, potentially increasing the team’s 2010 luxury tax by $882,000.
Beckett has a 106-68 record with a 3.81 ERA and 1,331 strikeouts in his career. In 14 career postseason starts, he is 7-3 with a 3.07 ERA and three shutouts — one behind Christy Mathewson for the most in major-league history.
The extension gives the Red Sox a long-term look at one of baseball’s best rotations.
Lackey signed for five years and $82.5 million over the offseason. Lester and Buchholz won’t be eligible for free agency until the 2014 season ends. Daisuke Matsuzaka, who is starting the season on the disabled list, is under contract through 2012.
Epstein said he had no medical concerns about Beckett, who spent two stints on the disabled list in 2008.
“We have outstanding medical reports,” he said. “The commitment we make today demonstrates that. There’s not a medical reason why (his success) shouldn’t continue.”
Beckett was the World Series MVP in 2003, his second season in the majors, when he pitched a 2-0 complete game over the Yankees in Game 6 as the Marlins clinched the title. He went 15-8 with a 3.38 ERA for the Marlins in 2005 but was traded to Boston in the offseason along with third baseman and 2007 World Series MVP Mike Lowell when the Marlins needed to lower their payroll.
Beckett went 20-7 with a 3.28 ERA and made his first All-Star team in 2007, finishing second in the AL Cy Young voting to CC Sabathia, the left-hander Beckett faced Sunday night in the first game of the major league season. Beckett started the opening game of Boston’s ‘07 Series sweep over Colorado, allowing one run in seven innings.
Beckett was 12-10 with a 4.03 ERA in 27 starts in 2008, when he missed the start of the season with a lower back strain then was sidelined in late August and early September with inflammation in his right elbow. Last year, he had a 17-6 record and 3.86 ERA in 32 starts.
In the last five seasons, only Sabathia, with 82 wins, and Roy Halladay, with 81, have more than Beckett’s 80.