BOSTON — The Boston Red Sox have agreed to terms with right-hander Ryan Dempster on a two-year contract worth $26.5 million, two people familiar with the negotiations said Thursday.
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington would not comment on Dempster at a news conference to announce the signing of outfielder Shane Victorino. “We’re engaged with a pitcher. That’s all I can say at this point,” Cherington said, without mentioning Dempster by name.
But a few hours later the sides completed the framework of a deal, the two people familiar with the talks said. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because the agreement was pending a physical.
Dempster would help a rotation led by Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, promising young pitchers coming off subpar seasons. At the other end of the staff are Franklin Morales and Felix Doubront; pitchers the Red Sox hope can develop into dependable starters. John Lackey returns after missing last season due to elbow ligament-replacement surgery.
Dempster, 12-8 with a 3.38 ERA this year, gives the Red Sox a reliable pitcher who has thrown more than 200 innings for four of the past five seasons. He was 5-5 with a 2.25 ERA with the Chicago Cubs this year before being traded to Texas. He was 7-3 with a 5.03 ERA for the Rangers.
Boston hopes he will be an improvement over Josh Beckett, who was 5-11 with a 5.23 ERA before he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a deal that conceded the 2012 season while clearing $250 million in future salaries. Daisuke Matsuzaka, who arrived in Boston to international fanfare, was 1-7 with an 8.28 ERA last season while battling injuries.
Dempster, 35, has a 124-124 record and a 4.33 ERA in a 15-year big league career, most of it with the Marlins and Cubs.
Meanwhile, Hawaiian Victorino was so excited to arrive in Boston in the chill of December he ordered some New England clam chowder at dinner and sent a picture to his Twitter followers.
That’s when he got his first lesson.
“It’s CHOWDA, Shane!” Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury corrected him.
“That was the first real message from Jacoby for Boston,” Victorino said Thursday at a news conference to announce the $39 million, three-year deal he agreed to at the winter meetings. “I’ve got to learn the lingo.”
Victorino joins Ellsbury in the Red Sox outfield, with the opportunity to replace the 2011 AL MVP runner-up when Ellsbury’s contract expires at the end of next season. In the meantime, Victorino is slotted for right field, where he has not played regularly since 2007.
“I always look at it as, ‘I’m going to help this team win,'” Victorino said. “I came in as a right fielder. … Don’t get me wrong, I love center field, I want to be a center fielder, but I play right. I’m excited for the opportunity. I might wrap myself around that pole, but if I’ve got to go get the ball I’ve got to go get it.”
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said adding a “center field-quality right fielder” was one of his goals for the offseason. It’s also been important to add players who can improve the chemistry of a team that collapsed in September 2011 and never got in position to collapse in 2012.
“He fits perfectly into our short- and long-term plan,” Cherington said. “He’s been an outstanding performer for a lot of years in a tough place to play. He’s been a big part of great teams. We’re thrilled to add him to our team and to our clubhouse.”
Victorino said he followed the problems in Boston from afar, and he thinks the chemistry problems can be solved by winning.
“The last two years have definitely been tough for the Red Sox, the organization. But I look forward to 2013 and being the team we could be,” he said, noting that he experienced his own disappointment this fall after making the playoffs five years in a row. “I fell short last year. It wasn’t fun to be home at the beginning of October.”
Nicknamed the Flyin’ Hawaiian, Victorino is a .275 hitter with 90 homers in seven full seasons. He came up to the major leagues with San Diego but played most of his career with Philadelphia before he was sent to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the July 31 trade deadline.
“I always said Fenway was one of my favorites— there and Wrigley, because of the tradition,” he said from an event room in the ballpark, where the scoreboard welcomed him to Boston. “To call this home for the next three years, I’m ecstatic.
“There is no convincing. It’s Boston; that, in itself, says it all. It’s the Red Sox. It’s a historic franchise.”
Victorino said his experience with the demanding Phillies fans should also help prepare him for Boston.
“I’m hoping it’s not worse than Philly,” he said. “I hope it’s not that tough because that was a very tough market. I played in Philly all those years. That was a trying experience.”
Also Thursday, Cherington said he had nothing to announce on Mike Napoli, the catcher-first baseman who also agreed to a $39 million, three-year deal during the winter meetings, pending a physical. That contract has yet to be announced.
“Our hope is that we’ll be able to resolve the issues,” Cherington said. “We’re working on it.”
Cherington did not comment on negotiations with Ryan Dempster, who finished last season with the Texas Rangers. Later Thursday, the team reached an agreement with him on a two-year, $26.5 million deal, according to two people familiar with the negotiations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to The Associated Press because the deal was pending a physical.
“We’re engaged with a pitcher,” Cherington said, without mentioning Dempster by name. “That’s all I can say at this point.”