FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Talks are ongoing for a contract extension for Red Sox pitcher Josh Beckett, who is scheduled to pitch the season opener next Sunday night at Fenway Park against the New York Yankees.
But it turns out the benchmark for a new deal will not be the five-year, $82.5 million contract the Sox gave free agent John Lackey this winter, according to a source with knowledge of the negotiations. The Red Sox will not go beyond four years in a deal for Beckett, the source said.
At 30, Beckett is a year younger than Lackey, but it appears that long-term concerns about Beckett's right shoulder have dissuaded the Red Sox from going to a fifth year with Beckett, whose three-year, $30 million extension he agreed to in 2006 expires at the end of the season.
Early in his minor league career, Beckett had evidence of some fraying in his rotator cuff, which led his former team, the Florida Marlins, to limit how much he threw, according to a major league source. And when the Red Sox acquired Beckett from the Marlins in 2005, Sox officials who inspected his medical records were concerned about his shoulder, but not enough to walk away from the deal, according to a baseball source with direct knowledge of those trade negotiations.
Lackey has missed six weeks at the start of each of the last two seasons, once with tricep tendinitis, the other with elbow inflammation, and counting time spent in the minor leagues, has pitched nearly 500 innings more than Beckett. But Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, determining that the market value for Lackey had been established the year before when the Yankees signed A.J. Burnett, gave Lackey the same deal.
Epstein has signed only one pitcher to a longer deal, under much different circumstances. He gave a six-year, $52 million deal to Daisuke Matsuzaka after the Red Sox posted the highest bid for the Japanese right-hander.
The assumption was Beckett would seek a deal that, at minimum, matched Lackey's. But while he may well exceed the $16.5 million average annual value of Lackey's contract, the Red Sox have made it clear, the source said, that it won't be for as many years.
Six active pitchers have a higher average-annual value than Lackey, led by CC Sabathia, who is at $23 million for his seven-year, $161 million deal signed before the 2009 season. Roy Halladay this past winter signed a three-year, $60 million deal with the Phillies, an AAV of $20 million. It is reasonable to expect that Beckett will seek something between Lackey and Halladay.
Beckett and the Red Sox have both pledged not to discuss negotiations.
Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.