The dysfunctional 2012 Boston Red Sox are trying to rid themselves of a major piece of their 2011 meltdown: Josh Beckett.
Boston officials have placed calls to teams including Texas and Atlanta within the last two days gauging interest in the right-hander, multiple major-league sources told Yahoo! Sports on Sunday. While no deal is imminent, Boston has indicated it is willing to eat money on the remaining two-plus years and approximately $37.3 million of Beckett's contract to facilitate a trade, the sources said.
As time wanes, the likelihood against a Beckett deal before the Tuesday non-waiver trade deadline grows. Beckett would have the option to accept or reject a deal because of his 10-and-5 rights – 10 years in the major leagues, five with the same team. Texas and Atlanta are among the teams for which Beckett would waive his 10-and-5 rights, the sources said. The Dodgers could have interest in Beckett, according to a source, but are unsure whether he would accept a deal to Los Angeles.
This isn't the first time Boston has shopped Beckett. The Red Sox are believed to have made similar inquiries over the winter, sources said, despite the club and Beckett's public contention that he was going to stay in Boston.
After Beckett found himself at the center of the Red Sox's chicken-and-beer controversy that clouded their collapse in September 2011, his future with the team came into doubt. The hiring of Bobby Valentine as manager did nothing to allay fears; Beckett was leery of Valentine because of critical comments he made as a television broadcaster.
Valentine's tenure in Boston has been a disaster, with the Red Sox in last place and 51-51 after an extra-innings win Sunday against the New York Yankees. He never mended his relationship with Beckett, whose up-and-down season was perhaps best personified by the uproar over his golf outing following a missed start.
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Teams' hesitation to take on Beckett goes beyond his onerous contract. There is a simple fact at hand, one that makes …
1. Josh Beckett more a risk than a savior: He's not nearly the pitcher he once was.
Beckett's fastball tells his story. Last season, it sat at 93 mph and topped out at 96.3 mph. This year, Beckett barely can reach his average velocity from last season. Over the last month, the hardest fastball he threw was 93.5 mph, and his average was 91.5 mph. Consequently, he's throwing fewer fastballs than ever, relying more on a cutter that one executive said "is too hittable."
The key to any Beckett deal is just how much money the Red Sox are willing to eat. One comparison that makes sense is A.J. Burnett, Beckett's former teammate with the Florida Marlins. When the Yankees dumped him this offseason, they sent $19 million to cover more than half of the remaining $33 million on the final two years of Burnett's contract. While Beckett hasn't hit rock bottom like Burnett did – while his strikeout rate is a career low, Beckett still owns low home run and walk rates – his decent peripherals can't save him from a string of mediocre performances and lingering concern about his effect on a clubhouse.
Of course, the Red Sox could look at the standings, see themselves only four games back of the second wild-card slot and considering holding on to Beckett for now. Barring a blowaway offer …
2. James Shields is staying in Tampa Bay for the very same reason. The Rays, per usual, are right back into the thick of the playoff race – two games behind the Los Angeles Angels for the second wild-card slot, 2½ back of the Oakland Athletics for the first, with Evan Longoria set to return perhaps within the week, according to a source, after missing three months with a nagging hamstring injury.
The Rays' mindset is simple: They'll always listen, they'll always evaluate and they'll never turn down a great deal based on their place in the standings, good or bad. But with the market for pitching still not turning – the teams that wanted Shields either didn't have the goods nor were willing to deal them, and attempts at three-way deals died before they were even seedlings – it makes more sense that Tampa Bay aim for its fourth playoff spot in five years.
Shields' name surfaced in the first place only because of a lean pitching market, one that the price for …
3. Josh Johnson perhaps best personified. While the Marlins aren't in full-on dump mode, they're also far more concerned about beyond the 2013 season than next year, according to executives who have inquired about Johnson. Because they plan to cut payroll next year, the executives said, the Marlins are focusing on young, cheap players rather than major-league talent.
And with so few top prospects changing hands – beyond Jean Segura going to Milwaukee in the Zack Greinke deal and the Marlins' acquisition of Jacob Turner – teams are showing more than ever their reticence to part with players under their control for six seasons, even if they're far-from-sure things.
The Marlins understand the market could better serve them this offseason, when Johnson still would represent among the most desirable options beyond free-agent-to-be Greinke, unless, say, Seattle starts to shop Felix Hernandez.
Should Johnson stay put, it thins the pitching market all the more. Cleveland hasn't placed Justin Masterson off-limits, according to CBSSports.com, and Pittsburgh could deal Kevin Correia, who lost his rotation spot after the Wandy Rodriguez trade. There are others, none of whom are impact pitchers, a designation seemingly only …
4. Ryan Dempster can claim at this juncture. That he's still wearing a Chicago Cubs uniform is a surprise. If he's in one come Aug. 1, it will be even more so, because unless the Cubs plan on offering him a one-year tender – a contract for around $12.5 million that would guarantee them a compensatory draft pick if he signs elsewhere – they have nothing to gain by keeping him.
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Only the worst teams are in such a position, and their tack should be simple: anyone of value who's set to be a free agent goes. Dempster carries the most value of those players, though he neutered some of that by turning down a trade to Atlanta and making it known he would prefer to play for the Dodgers. His pesky 10-and-5 rights may again be put to the test Monday, when the Cubs survey the landscape once again in search of a home for Dempster and a prospect in return.
The best example otherwise of a team with everything to lose by holding onto a player is …
5. Jonathan Broxton and the Kansas City Royals, who quietly have slumped to the worst record in the AL. The relief market is finally heating up after sitting dormant for weeks, and after Huston Street signed a two-year contract extension with San Diego on Sunday, Broxton is the crème de la crème of closers.
With Seattle reportedly primed to deal Brandon League and Colorado weighing options on Rafael Betancourt – the Braves, Rangers, Blue Jays and Red Sox have inquired, according to a source – Broxton remains the prize. Though his numbers don't scream dominant – 36 hits in 35 2/3 innings, with 14 walks and 25 strikeouts – he has allowed one home run all season (May 16 to Wilson Betemit) and sports a 2.27 ERA. Between Texas and San Francisco, there is enough interest and incentive to get a Broxton deal done. The same can't yet be said for …
6. Chase Headley as San Diego juggles multiple offers and tries to decide whether it's prudent to trade the 28-year-old third baseman now or this winter, according to a source.
Right now, the source said, this much is true: None of the offers is good enough, and time is ticking. The Padres expect to decide Monday, the source said, whether they deal Headley before July 31. The market includes contenders and non-contenders because he is under team control for two more seasons.
His high price is a reflection of that. One symptom of the new collective-bargaining rules limiting compensatory draft picks for free agents is the flush market for players under team control. Among Shields, Johnson, Masterson, Betancourt, Headley and …
7. Shin-Soo Choo, the desire for help beyond this year could fuel some fireworks at the deadline. Cleveland, losers of three straight and now below .500, always was a fringe contender, and while the Indians aren't close to rebuilding mode, they're not loath to shedding top talent, either.
Choo is a perfect example. They'll soon have the room to pay him. With Travis Hafner, Derek Lowe, Grady Sizemore and Casey Kotchman's contracts coming off the books, they've got only $11 million in salary guarantees for next season (not including a handful of arbitration-eligible players). But Choo is 30. Scott Boras is his agent. The Indians will not overextend themselves with Choo as they did with Hafner, and certainly Boras will want $15 million a year for a player with a lifetime .292/.383/.475 slash line.
So Choo could join …
8. Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence as the prime outfield targets this summer. Victorino joins Dempster and Broxton as a must-go free agent, though executives say the Phillies haven't shopped him nearly as aggressively as Pence, who could make upward of $14 million through arbitration next season.
Considering the money the Phillies have tied up in salary already next season – $104 million to Ryan Howard, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Jonathan Papelbon, plus however much they included in the first year of Cole Hamels' $144 million deal – shipping off Pence would go to solving a financial quandary as well as a prospect drought.
Perhaps Joe Blanton, Juan Pierre or Ty Wigginton could bring a dream-on-it kid back, too, though none is likely to get the return of Pence or Victorino. Of course, the Phillies could keep either of them (or maybe both) were they to deal …
9. Cliff Lee instead. While they've shown no intentions of doing that yet, it could be a prudent thing to consider this offseason.
Because the idea of Lee clearing waivers in August – of every team passing on taking his contract as it is – and thus being eligible to be traded anywhere is far-fetched. Even though the Phillies owe Lee a guaranteed three years and $75 million with a $27.5 million option that vests for 2016 if Lee throws 200 innings in the final year of the deal or 400 innings between 2014 and 2015, deep-pocketed teams aren't afraid of the contract's size.
Look at this offseason. Zack Greinke – who, fair or not, is regarded by some big-market teams as not having the mettle to pitch in such cities – will be the best free agent pitcher unless he signs an extension with the Angels. Next best is … Anibal Sanchez? Jake Peavy, should the White Sox decline his $22 million option? Dempster? Brandon McCarthy? Francisco Liriano? Shaun Marcum?
Surely someone would pay in prospects to take a $100 million gamble on Cliff Lee rather than risk tens of millions for a second-tier free agent.
Ignore Lee's 1-6 record and focus on the peripherals. The 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings? Good. The 1.7 walks? Great. A 46.7 percent groundball rate? His best ever. The 15 home runs in 118 1/3 innings? Awful, and closer to the pre-Cy Young Lee than any season since., but seemingly anomalous considering all the other indicators.
Which is to say Lee is the perfect buy-low candidate for any team that wants a real ace. For a team looking to get an erstwhile ace on the cheap …
10. Josh Beckett is available now – and probably will be well into August, too. He is the sort of player who could pass through waivers and remain available until Aug. 31, by which time the Red Sox almost surely will know whether they're close enough to make a playoff run.
To do so, they must leapfrog Toronto, Baltimore, Tampa Bay, Detroit and Los Angeles – and do so with a clubhouse that long ago turned on its manager. The Red Sox's problems run deep, and management has identified Beckett as its foremost one.
Teams are calling and asking about Jon Lester, about Jacoby Ellsbury, about all their most valuable players, and the answer is either no or a return so prohibitively high it might as well be no.
Beckett is different. The Red Sox are ready to start their cleanse now. The stain of chicken grease and beer won't leave until he does.
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