BOSTON -- Things seen and heard around the batting cage, while trying to figure out just why Dr. Dre was here:
-- The Josh Beckett contract negotiations are in the final stages, according to a source who insisted the deal is not yet completed. Negotiations went smoothly, the source said, even though the Sox did not offer Beckett a fifth year like they gave John Lackey. “Josh did not insist on the fifth year,’’ said the source, indicating that Beckett’s total package will be “Lackey money.” Beckett is due to be paid $12 million this season, so with a four-year deal worth $70.5 million, his pay would match that of Lackey, who agreed to a five-year, $82.5 million deal this winter. The source said that there is no special language in the contract that would give the Sox protection in the event Beckett had shoulder issues. A deal could be announced as soon as this week.
-- Club officials remain optimistic about the progress being made by top prospect Ryan Westmoreland, the 19-year-old Rhode Island native who underwent five hours of brain surgery March 16. The family has asked the media not to be contacted until further notice while the 19-year-old undergoes postsurgery rehabilitation, but a club source said Westmoreland, with the assistance of a wheelchair, was able to attend a Padres spring training game. Padres assistant GM Jason McLeod was the Sox scouting director who drafted Westmoreland on the sixth round in 2008, and said the outfielder had more upside than any player he had drafted in five years as Sox scouting director.
-- Daisuke Matsuzaka, originally scheduled to throw for Pawtucket on Thursday while on rehab assignment, has had his first start pushed back to Saturday, but manager Terry Francona said it was a procedural issue. He did not elaborate, but evidently it was connected to Matsuzaka pitching in Saturday’s exhibition against the Nationals, and a requirement that a week pass before he pitch again.
In conversations with club officials Sunday, it was apparent that the team does not expect Matsuzaka to return to the big-league club any time soon. He was not impressive during spring training, with below-average velocity and command, and the Sox will want to see progress made before they promote him to Boston. Given what happened last year, there has to be concern that Matsuzaka may have shoulder issues that have reduced the effectiveness of a pitcher who looked like a staff ace when he first burst on the scene in 2007, but despite an 18-3 record in ’08, has never been as dominating as he was in his first two months in a Boston uniform.
-- How will Mike Lowell get any playing time as the club is presently constituted? Barring an injury, the most likely avenue is as a DH against left-handed pitchers, although manager Terry Francona obviously isn’t committed to doing that yet, given that he started David Ortiz against Yankee lefthander CC Sabathia Sunday night. Ortiz has hit just .215 (58 for 269) against lefties in the last two seasons, after batting .308 against them in 2007. If he gets off to a slow start against lefties this season, Francona may be forced to have a very tough conversation with Big Papi.