By Jeff Louderback
While the Los Angeles Angels made a significant free agent splash for the second consecutive season by inking Josh Hamilton this afternoon, the Boston Red Sox made a less heralded move but one that will bolster their starting rotation for 2013 and 2014.
The Red Sox have reached an agreement with right-hander Ryan Dempster on a two-year, $26.5 million deal, according to multiple media outlets.
As long as the 35-year-old Dempster has a healthy physical and the contract is finalized, it will represent a quality signing by Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington. The move upgrades a rotation that also includes Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Felix Doubront and John Lackey.
Dempster, who spent his entire 15-year-career in the National League until he was traded from the Chicago Cubs to the Texas Rangers at last July’s trade deadline, posted a 5.09 ERA in 12 starts during his American League debut. The ERA is deceptive, though. He allowed eight runs in two of his first three starts, but he allowed no more than two earned runs in seven of his last nine outings.
Before joining the Rangers, Dempster was 5-5 with a 2.26 ERA in 15 starts for the Cubs. He finished 2012 with a 12-8 record, a 3.38 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP. In his 15-year Major League career, four of which were spent as a reliever (including three as a closer), Dempster is 124-124 with a 4.33 ERA and a 1.43 WHIP.
Dempster reportedly turned down a two-year, $25 million offer from the Red Sox earlier this month. The Red Sox were wise to sign him at two years instead of three. Dempster is known for his durability, having eclipsed 200 innings in four straight seasons before logging 173 frames in 2012. Lackey, who is signed through 2014 with a league minimum option for 2015, should be fully recovered from Tommy John surgery when spring training arrives.
The Red Sox believe that Dempster and Lackey will give the rotation the durability it has lacked in recent years, and the contracts of both pitchers expire at the end of 2014 (if the Sox choose not to pick up Lackey’s 2015 option) so the organization is not locked into long-term deals with any of its starters.