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What’s going to happen to Beckett?

11.04.09 at 11:57 am ET
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Yankees Red Sox BaseballJosh Beckett is signed for $12.1 million for the 2010 season (thanks to his option vesting after making 28 starts in ’09). Beckett and his agent, Michael Moye, are going to sit down with Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein in the coming weeks, with Beckett telling WEEI.com Tuesday night, “We’re just letting things die down a little bit.”

This we know.

Heck, we knew this back in February when the Sox’ pitcher identified such a get-together as a priority, saying in the first few days of spring training: “At the end of the year hopefully we’ll sit down and maybe have a talk with (Red Sox general manager) Theo (Epstein), me and my agent (Michael Moye) and see what they’re thinking about. … I want to see where they’re going, if I’m even in their plans. If I’m not it was an awesome run. I really haven’t sat down and thought about it too much, but at the end of the year we will sit down and at least have a talk. Even if nothing comes of it, just to say, ‘Are we in the plans? Are we looking to get younger?’ It’s really up to them. I would like to stay here. I love playing in Boston. I can’t imagine another organization that would go so far out of the way to make my job as easy as possible. They realize our jobs are very demanding and very hard, and they do everything they can.”

After that nobody knows what’s going to happen, but whatever transpires, it might just define what the Red Sox will have to prioritize in the very near future.

One of the most important — yet also perhaps most under-publicized — aspects of the coming offseason is just starting to gain some steam. Take, for instance, the first comments from Epstein on the matter at hand:

“It’s been really fun for us to watch him mature on and off the field during his time in Boston,” Epstein said. “He’s put himself in a position to be valued very highly by us. He’s someone we’d obviously like to have to be a part of our future. Those things have a way of taking care of themselves. … We’ll see what happens.”

Nobody — not Beckett, or the Red Sox — can have any idea of what lies ahead, which makes the big picture of the Sox a bit blurry.

This is what you should know heading into the conversations:

THIS IS HIS BIG CHANCE: Beckett isn’t likely to take a hometown discount. He happily signed his extension in 2006, despite the fact that many surmised he lost out on as much as $60 million by not becoming a free agent after ’07 (assuming he was in line to make Johan Santana money following the ’07 playoff run). As he pointed out throughout the last few seasons, he will have made $50 million by the time he’s 30, and that’s OK by him. But the deal was also made palatable by the fact that he knew if his performance stayed fairly consistent, there was another big contract waiting around the corner.

That corner is getting really close.

By the time next offseason rolls around, Beckett will be 30, which is under the Mendoza Line when it comes to the age at which teams are more willing to roll out the five-year plan for free-agent starting pitchers.

“We’ll see,” was Beckett’s line when asked about the scenario that lies ahead, talking with a bit of a smile. Leading up to his last deal, there were few grins. His ERA was hovering above 5.00 heading into July and he was coming off an offseason during which he was told there was going to be some issues in getting his right shoulder insured. The Red Sox were approaching the pitcher at the right time. Now, Beckett has some chips on his side.

ABOUT THE HEALTH CONCERNS: Some will say that Beckett’s health should be a concern for any team diving into a long-term deal with the Texas native. Over the past few years, he has had various physical issues (oblique, back, elbow) that have popped up at inopportune times.

Heading into his tenure with the Red Sox, his current club had similar doubts. The MRI on Beckett’s right shoulder wasn’t good (five years earlier, a doctor wanted him to have labrum surgery before Dr. James Andrews convinced him it wasn’t necessary), and there were those concerns raised over the potential insurance risks.

Since then, however, Beckett has gotten insured (after taking an MRI following the 2007 season), while committing himself to an in-season training regimen that not only has kept his shoulder strong but has served as an example for the young pitchers in the Sox’ organization.

The various physical issues that have occurred in his tenure with the Red Sox will be some of the things that make this far from a cut-and-dried negotiation, but with 792 innings under his belt since the beginning of ’06 (17th-best in the majors) to go along with his 65 wins (third-most), he has seemingly shown enough for some team to be willing to go down the four- (or maybe even five-) year road. A.J. Burnett, after all, wasn’t really known as the most durable of pitchers when he signed a five-year deal with the Yankees last offseason, or with the Blue Jays (with an opt-out after three years) following the 2005 campaign.

FROM THE RED SOX’ PERSPECTIVE: If Beckett did become a free agent after ’07, the Sox might have been in trouble considering the amount of years and dollars the pitcher would have commanded. The question now is: How many years are the Sox willing to go this time around?

One thing that plays in Beckett’s favor is the role he has taken on as a staff leader (while sharing the ace role with Jon Lester). The Sox point to the starter when identifying what type of commitment it takes to be successful between starts, and how to approach the job as a whole. Ironically, this is one of the major drawing cards when entertaining the notion of committing to any sort of long-term deal with Roy Halladay, a pitcher three years older than Beckett.

But what if the Red Sox aren’t willing to go to the lengths of another team, or to the level of Beckett’s liking? Then this is where the conversations in the coming weeks might translate into how the Sox’ approach this offseason. If there is a hint that Beckett is going to be a difficult signing, than securing the likes of a Felix Hernandez or Halladay (who, right now, appears to be locked into Toronto with the Blue Jays holding onto the ace for the time being) becomes a priority.

And if Hernandez, Halladay, or another sure-fire, top-of-the-rotation pitcher becomes the be-all, end-all, then where does it leave the Sox in regard to having the chips to trade for a much-needed bat? As hesitant as the Red Sox are to dip their toes in the free agent market, it might become a necessary route if for no other reason as the need to hold on to some of their high-end minor leaguers.

They are scenarios that make you realize how important the signing of Lester was, as well as Beckett’ initial extension, and, whether you want to admit it or not, the long-term commitment to Daisuke Matsuzaka, who at least has the potential for top-of-the-rotation residency.

So while these initial talks might not yield any sort of tangible progress, any hints they could deliver could go a long way in helping the Red Sox’ plan of attack heading into the next few months.

Read More: Contract, extension, Josh Beckett, michael moye
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