Josh Beckett Out to Prove His Worth in Vital Contract Year The Red Sox are days away from taking the field for the start of spring training games. It's that time again. And no one's more focused on playing the game itself than Josh Beckett.

Beckett has made it clear over the course of the past week — he's not willing to discuss his contract situation with the Red Sox once the season begins. He's focused on baseball and baseball only. The business side of things will have to wait.

"That stuff is going to work itself out," Beckett told MLB.com last week. "I'm really not too concerned with it. I don't really have anything to say about contract stuff today or probably any time during spring training. I definitely don't want to let that be the focus of what I'm trying to do."

Beckett signed a three-year extension with the Red Sox soon after arriving in the Hub, agreeing to terms in the summer of 2006 on a $30 million deal that carried him through 2009. The club then exercised its $12 million option on Beckett for this season, the mother of all no-brainers after his solid first four seasons in a Red Sox uniform. Now he needs a new deal — and at 29, still in the prime of his career, it had better be a big one.

So how much is he worth? The Red Sox this year will be faced with the task of sitting down and hammering out a fair deal for their workhorse right-hander, and it will hinge on how the market for starting pitchers has looked over the past couple years.

Take, for instance, two hard-throwing righties signed to long-term contracts by big-market teams in the past two seasons — A.J. Burnett with the Yankees and John Lackey with the Sox. The two are very similar pitchers — around the same age, similar makeup, similar career trajectories. And they're signed to identical contracts. Burnett got five years and $82.5 million when he inked a deal with the Yankees last winter; Lackey got exactly the same offer from Boston earlier this offseason.

There's your benchmark right there. At the moment, the best guess as to Beckett's market value is $16.5 million a year over five years. That's the going rate for a veteran right-hander with a strong track record of success.

And yet neither Beckett nor the Red Sox are indicating that it's an open-and-shut case. Someone's not yet ready to sign on that dotted line.

And it's probably Beckett. If the Sox hurler can put together a stellar 2010, he might be able to prove he's worth more than the current going rate.

If he gets a Lackey-type deal to return to the Red Sox in 2011, Beckett will become one of the nine highest-paid pitchers in baseball. And that's absolutely nothing to sneeze at.

But perhaps he aspires to more.

Roy Halladay is making $20 million a year. Johan Santana's getting almost $23 million. CC Sabathia is raking in $23 million a year on the nose.

When he's at his very best, Beckett can be that good. He can be one of the game's true elites. But he wasn't exactly proving it with his 3.86 ERA last year, a mark not too far under the league average for the second consecutive season.

Rather than pull the trigger on a hastily signed deal now, Beckett is waiting to see if he can up his market value out there on the mound. If he has a big year in 2010, it could land him a big paycheck down the road.

It's a gamble, to be sure. But anyone who knows Josh Beckett knows he's confident in his abilities. Always has been. Beckett wants to earn the big bucks starting next season, and he's ready to take the mound and earn it.