And if Josh Beckett wants a big contract for 2011 and beyond, it better be.
For the first time since 2006, the Red Sox' ace is entering a contract year, and the onus is on him to prove he still belongs in a Red Sox uniform. He's not the only ace in town anymore, and he'll be competing for the spotlight when Boston's star-studded rotation gets down to business next season.
John Lackey is here, and he's signed for $82.5 million between now and 2014. Jon Lester is young and cheap — he'll be around until at least 2013, and he's due just $30 million. Clay Buchholz is cost-controlled and on top of his game — unless a blockbuster trade happens, he'll be around a while.
Beckett has a place in the Red Sox' future, but only if he can prove he still deserves it.
In four seasons with the Red Sox, Beckett has won 65 games with an ERA of 4.05. He has averaged 181 strikeouts in 198 innings per season. He's a workhorse, he's a competitor, and despite pitching in a hitters' park in a hitters' league in a hitters' era, he's a true ace.
But he turns 30 early next season, and his best years might be behind him. Beckett has a decision to make — either he needs to sit down with the Red Sox now and hammer out an extension, or he's got to put together a banner year in 2010 to get his market value up.
What awaits us next winter is a marquee free-agent season, with headliners possibly including Albert Pujols and Joe Mauer. If Beckett wants to command the same cash as those superstars, he's got to earn it.
With a market like that, Beckett's best bet is probably an extension in Boston. And the Red Sox, even if they are overflowing with top-shelf starting pitching, are all for keeping Beckett around.
"I sent Josh a text message," general manager Theo Epstein told NESN insider Gordon Edes hours after signing Lackey last month. "I said, 'Some might speculate this means the end of you in Boston. Don't listen to them. You're a huge part of what we've got going on here and we'd love it if it worked out that you were part of our future as well. And the most important thing is we have one heckuva pitching staff right now.'"
That's Theo's take. As for Beckett?
"He texted back and said he was excited about the signing," added Epstein. "He knows John a little bit, thinks he's a good man and a great pitcher, and he's ready to go for spring training. I don't think it impacts Josh nearly to the degree people have been speculating."
From the looks of it, we have every reason to believe that the relationship between Beckett and the Red Sox is a rock-solid one. He may not be a 20-something flamethrower any more, but he still has plenty more productive seasons ahead of him.
The only caveat is that knowing the Red Sox, their loyalty is never as predictable as you think. We've seen the Red Sox turn their backs before on the players they once loved — Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, Johnny Damon. Just last month, they tried to trade Mike Lowell.
Simply put, you never know where the Red Sox stand until the deals are done and the contracts signed. And with Beckett, we're a long way from that stage.
It would be a pleasure to see Josh Beckett in Boston for many years to come — next summer will decide whether that dream becomes a reality.