Red Sox Will Factor Every Variable Into Josh Beckett Contract Extension Equation

Red Sox Will Factor Every Variable Into Josh Beckett Contract Extension Equation It’s no secret the Red Sox have a big decision to make about Josh Beckett.

The right-hander is in the last year of his contract with the team and scheduled to make $12.1 million in 2010.

Should the Red Sox give him an extension before Opening Day?

On the surface, this might seem like it requires minimal thought — lock up an ace for another four to five years, and pencil in 45-60 wins from the top three spots of Boston’s rotation through 2013 (when it’s time to discuss Jon Lester’s option and future). That would be one less to-do item on Theo Epstein’s list.

But the answer to the Beckett extension question is not a simple yes or no. And there are pros and cons to making the move during spring training.

Beckett can still be as dominating and overpowering as any pitcher in baseball. On some days – like the 2009 season opener against the Rays — he’s scary good. Capable of making major leaguers look like Little Leaguers with his explosive, just-try-and-hit-me-I-dare-you fastball and now-you-see-it-now-go-make-sure-your-knee-isn’t-broken curve.

He has the resume of a No. 1 starter. 

Last season, he went 17-6 with a 3.86 ERA, logged a career-high 212 1/3 innings and was named to his second All-Star game.

He has gone 65-34 with a 4.05 ERA in four seasons with the Red Sox.

He is 7-3 with a 3.07 in 14 career postseason appearances (13 starts) and has won a ring in the National and American Leagues.

If the Red Sox finalized an extension with Beckett before the first official game of the year against the Yankees on April 4, the story could be put to bed.

On the flip side, a case could be made why it makes more sense for Boston’s brass to take a wait-and-see approach with Beckett and his extension.

A player in a contract year is a hungry player. Without a new deal in place, Beckett would be motivated to prove that he still is one of the best pitchers in the game, that he’s worth big money, that all those whispers of him being injury prone are bunk.

He’s suffered from oblique tweaks and back spasms at times since 2008. The ailments limited him to only 27 starts and 12 wins in 2008. Beckett’s 7.22 ERA in April of 2009 did little to allay concerns, but he bounced back strong to finish 11-3 with a 3.35 ERA at the All-Star break.

His second-half performance, however, raised red flags again. He allowed 15 home runs, posted a 5.03 ERA in August and at times struggled with his breaking ball. It all added up to a 6-3 record and 4.53 ERA.

He lost his only start of the 2009 postseason against the Angels. Beckett did not pitch awful, but he didn’t look like the Beckett of October 2003 or October 2007 who was close to untouchable.

Is that evidence of a pitcher on the downside of his career? Nobody wants to think that, but a pitcher without a strong core is as useful as a car with a blown head gasket.

Beckett turns 30 on May 15. When he is healthy, he is one of the best pitchers in baseball. When he’s not, he can look like one of the worst.

It’s way too early to throw in the towel on Beckett, but he isn’t going to take a hometown discount to stay with the Red Sox. He saw the five-year, $82.5 million John Lackey got over the winter, and Beckett is going to want something in the same neighborhood.

In the coming weeks, Beckett and his agent, Michael Moye, will sit down with Red Sox brass in Fort Myers to talk. Of course, the team would like to see Beckett in a Red Sox uniform beyond 2010. But before they make any long-term commitments, the hard-throwing Texan is going to have to show he still has the right stuff.

If he goes on to win the 2010 Cy Young, an extension after the season is going to cost the Red Sox more than it would this spring. But when it comes to guaranteeing millions of dollars, it pays to have no doubts about the health of a player and how long he can produce. 

*** will answer one Red Sox question every day through Feb. 23.

Tuesday, Jan. 27: How hungry is Daisuke Matsuzaka?

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