BOSTON -- Injury can alter the best-laid plans, but the Red Sox have gone a long way toward cementing their starting rotation for the foreseeable future after signing Josh Beckett to a four-year contract extension worth $68 million.
"We couldn't be more thrilled to keep Josh around,'' Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said at a Monday afternoon news conference in Fenway Park. "We were talking that he'll be with the Red Sox for nine years when this contract is up. He's earned it. Josh is an excellent contributor on and off the field, a big part of our team and pitching staff.''
The Red Sox now have three starting pitchers -- Beckett, John Lackey and Jon Lester -- signed through 2014 (the club holds an option on Lester for 2014), and a fourth, Clay Buchholz, who is not eligible for free agency until after the '14 season.
"When you have that pitching, you don't want to let it go away,'' Epstein said. "It's hard to acquire in free agency, it's hard to acquire in trade, and it's hard to draft and develop this kind of starting pitching. Knowing that we have Josh and Jon Lester and John Lackey and Clay Buchholz all signed through 2014 means There's no guarantee in baseball, but it should mean we have outstanding starting pitching for that period.''
The contract calls for a $5 million signing bonus this season, and an annual salary of $15.75 million from 2011 to 2014. Beckett is due to be paid $12.1 million this season in the option year of an extension he signed in 2006.
Recent signings on the market, including the five-year, $82.5 million deals signed by Beckett's former Marlins teammate A.J. Burnett in 2008 and current teammate Lackey last winter, would suggest that Beckett had a good chance of getting a five-year deal as well.
Beckett did not insist on a fifth year in negotiations with the Red Sox.
"A lot of people look at what you could lose or what you lost,'' he said. "I look at four years of more stability. The season gets long when you're losing 90 games. I know we have a chance to win here every year. I look at it more as what I gained than what I potentially lost.''
Beckett's prior shoulder issues had been cited as a reason why the team would not offer the right-hander a fifth year, but Epstein on Monday insisted they had no concerns about Beckett's health. Beckett had two stints on the disabled list in 2008, but the first was related to his back, the other to an inflamed elbow. He also tried to pitch through the '08 postseason with a strained oblique muscle.
"We had outstanding health reports," Epstein said. "All the testing now is better than it's ever been, and the commitment we made demonstrates that. We put our money where our mouth is. He's a guy who is insurable, he's a guy that we count on to be as healthy as he's been. And look at what he's done for us. He's been remarkably consistent throwing as many innings as anybody, and there's not a medical reason why that shouldn't continue, with the work he's put in to create a foundation for success health-wise."
A source said that there is no special language in the contract that would give the Red Sox protection in the event the 30-year-old Beckett had shoulder issues.
The MVP of the 2003 World Series for the Marlins and a key contributor to the Sox's championship in '07, Beckett trails only three pitchers in wins since coming to Boston with Mike Lowell in the trade that sent Hanley Ramirez to Florida. Since 2006, only Roy Halladay (68-32), CC Sabathia (67-36) and Justin Verlander (64-40) have won more games than Beckett (63-34), who over the same time span ranks ninth in strikeouts with 717.
Beckett's ERA in a Boston uniform is 4.13, which ranks only 30th overall in that timeframe. That figure includes Sunday's start against the Yankees, in which Beckett allowed five earned runs in 4 2/3 innings but escaped with a no-decision when the Sox rallied from a 5-1 deficit to win 9-7.
By announcing the deal after the season started, Beckett's new salary isn't included in luxury tax calculations until next year.
Having four starters signed to deals of four years or more (Daisuke Matsuzaka's six-year deal runs through the 2012 season) does not represent a change of heart, said Epstein, who in the past has voiced resistance to signing pitchers to deals of such length.
"No change of philosophy," Epstein said. "I still believe shorter is better. I still believe in avoiding risk. But I also believe we operate in the real world, not some sort of fantasy world where you can pick the type of player and contract you want to sign him to.
"We have to make real-world decisions that come with risk and reward. We've done our due diligence. We're comfortable with what we've done. If you told me someday, do you see yourself with a number of pitchers under four- and five-year commitments, I'd say probably not because it's something you'd rather avoid. But it's also a unique opportunity to have a rotation like this wrapped up for this long. We're very comfortable with how it evolved."
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.