By Jeff Louderback
After a forgettable and embarrassing 2012 season for the Boston Red Sox, the thought of a more prosperous and successful 2013 campaign is appealing. John Lackey has a chance to be a significant part of Boston’re resurgence as a legitimate World Series contender.
Laugh if you will. Point to his role as the ringleader of the ” fried chicken and beer” fiasco. Express your aggravation about his 6.41 ERA in 2011, his habit of gestures on the mound that show up teammates when they do not make the plays behind him that Lackey thinks should be executed and his excuse-laden post-game press conferences.
Those are valid responses. After all, since then general manager Theo Epstein signed Lackey to a five-year, $82.5 million deal after the 2009 season, the soon-to-be 34-year-old right-hander has not remotely resembled the durable and effective top of the rotation starter that he was for so long with the Los Angeles Angels.
In eight years with the Angels – from 2002 to 2009 – Lackey was 102-71 with a 3.81 ERA. In four of those years, he logged more than 200 innings, and in one other season, he recorded 198.1 frames. The second round pick in 1999 started showing signs of wear and tear with his elbow in 2008 (24 starts, 163.1 innings) and 2009 (27 starts, 176.1 innings). He posted ERAs of 3.75 and 3.83 respectively in those seasons, but because of elbow issues he was not as impressive. Then he struggled to a 4.40 ERA in 33 starts and 215 innings during his first year in Boston (though he did win 14 games) before bombing in 2011 and pitching just 160 innings.
Though he is not popular among fans and is frequently chastised by the media, Lackey is well-liked by his teammates and remained with the club during his rehab work over the 2012 season. His recovery is reportedly progressing well, and he is expected to fill a rotation spot with the Red Sox in 2013.
Now that the Sox have freed themselves from the cumbersome contracts of Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford, they can afford to pay Lackey $15.25 million in 2013 and 2014, especially if he serves as a durable and effective starter.
Aside from the myriad of injuries to key players in the lineup this season, the key reason why Boston finished 69-93 and in last place in the American League East is a severe lack of dependable starting pitching. Jon Lester struggled all year, and Clay Buchholz was atrocious in the first half before rebounding and becoming one of the top starters in the AL after the All-Star break. Felix Doubront, the 24-year-old rookie left-hander, showed promise but wore down in his first full season in the majors.
Along with those three starters, Lackey can provide the Red Sox with a durable and deep rotation if general manager Ben Cherington is able to land a frontline starter, like a Dan Haren or Jake Peavy via free agency, or a trade with Seattle for Felix Hernandez.
Lackey is paid like a top of the rotation starter, and likely he will not give the Red Sox frontline starter numbers. Yet he can provide the club with a reliable back of the rotation arm who can post a 3.80 to 4.00 ERA and win 13 to 15 games. That is more palatable than what they have been getting from back of the rotation arms in recent seasons.