Former Los Angeles Angels ace John Lackey(notes) submitted to a physical examination by Boston Red Sox doctors Monday, according to reports, and is on the verge of signing a five-year, $85 million contract.
A source with the Angels said early Monday afternoon that they are still in the running for Lackey and believe he hasn't accepted an offer. However, a Red Sox source said a couple hours later that Lackey was all but in the fold in Boston.
A physical, first reported by AOL Fanhouse, would not be insignificant for Lackey, who started each of the past two seasons on the disabled list, first because of a strained triceps and then because of a forearm strain, both near his pitching elbow.
If Lackey, 31, proves healthy and an agreement reached, the Red Sox will have added another ace type to a rotation already thick with Josh Beckett(notes), Jon Lester(notes), Clay Buchholz(notes) and Daisuke Matsuzaka(notes), and a year before Beckett reaches free agency.
The Angels, meanwhile, could be on the verge of losing their best pitcher to a regular October foe, and only days after losing third baseman Chone Figgins(notes) to AL West rival Seattle. During the winter meetings, they'd backed off their pursuit on Bay, saying their focus was pitching, namely Lackey.
Lackey arrived at free agency at the opportune time, a year after CC Sabathia and a year before Josh Beckett.
He was, therefore, the only pitcher available who might remotely qualify as an ace, as Lackey does, both in aptitude and attitude, beginning almost the day he arrived in Anaheim in 2002.
It was Lackey who'd stand in front of the mound, glove hand extended, jaw tight, demanding the baseball in the harrowing moments over the past eight seasons. Lackey who pitched three scoreless innings against the Yankees in his first postseason appearance, then 23 days later beat the Giants, becoming the second rookie to start and win Game 7 of a World Series. Lackey who led what annually was one of the better rotations in the game, for a team that has won five AL West titles in six seasons. Lackey who in his final five seasons with the Angels never had an ERA higher than 3.83, and who leaves with a 102-71 record, and who was the rare pitcher with a personality strong enough to help lead a clubhouse.
He also leaves with a recent history of arm troubles. He started the past two seasons on the disabled list, missing two months in 2008 because of a strained triceps and six weeks in 2009 because of elbow inflammation apparently related to a forearm strain. Lackey had never been disabled before, averaging more than 210 innings from 2003 through 2007 seasons, yet for the past two averaging 40 fewer.
That, along with the Angels' apparent reluctance to pay what the market would bear in cost and term, cooled Lackey's market somewhat. The Angels were typically cautious with Lackey, however, given their pitching depth, perhaps even overly cautious. In a world where top-end pitchers are scarce, Lackey was popular in all the expected places – New York (both teams), Boston and Anaheim, along with Milwaukee, Washington and Seattle.
After 7½ seasons, his reputation for hammering the strike zone has not diminished. Competitive and aggressive, Lackey hardly ever gives in, a trait that makes him popular among teammates. His fastball still runs in the mid-90s most nights, and is most effective when his other pitches – slider, curveball, change – are in the zone as well.
The Angels now appear to be in a plan to change not just their ballclub, but their personality. Chone Figgins, their leadoff hitter, third baseman and a symbol of their hell-bent baserunning, remained in the division by signing with the Mariners, who also obtained starter Cliff Lee on Monday. Vladimir Guerrero, the Angels' best player for a half-decade and a clubhouse favorite, is a free agent and it appears he's been replaced by Hideki Matsui.
And Lackey, who might have been the toughest man in their dugout, takes his tenacity to Boston.