McAdam: Red Sox committed to current rotation


McAdam: Red Sox committed to current rotation

By SeanMcAdam

Even before they locked up Clay Buchholz to a four-year, 30 million deal, the Red Sox already had three other starters -- Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Jon Lester -- secured to guaranteed deals through 2013.

If you take into account an option year on Lester, the Sox now have 80 percent of their starting rotation signed through the end of the 2014 season. (Daisuke Matsuzaka, their fifth starter, is signed through the end of 2012.)

In other words, the Red Sox have cost certainty.

What they don't have, of course, is performance certainty.

In theory, it's good to have this much starting pitching secured into the future. As general manager Theo Epstein noted Sunday, venturing into the free-agent pitching market can be an expensive proposition.

By definition, bidding for free agent starters is a gamble. Teams invariably pay for past performance, and because pitchers are far more susceptible to injury and declining performance, the risk is that much greater.

Barry Zito, anyone? Or Mike Hampton?

It's one thing to have their rotation locked down, allowing the Sox to project salaries and have a sense of what their roster will look like three and four years into the future.

And with both Lester and Buchholz in their mid-to-late 20s, there's less of a chance that either will underperform because of age or injury.

Beckett and Lackey, however, are different stories.

Lackey was a disappointment in the first year of his five-year, 82.5 million dollar deal, and has been an outright disaster through his first two starts of this season. Beckett's four-year, 68 million extension -- which didn't kick in until this season -- has the potential to be a bad investment, especially given Beckett's poor 2010.

Already, it could be said that the Sox moved prematurely in extending Beckett last April -- especially with the benefit of hindsight. After all, Beckett has not enjoyed a truly good season, from start to finish, since 2007 (though Sunday night's performance against the Yankees, a team that had scored 15 runs in the first two games of the series, certainly gives hope that the Sox will get their money's worth out of him this year).

Argue if you will that his sub-par 2008 was the result of a strained back in spring training, which prohibited him from his normal spring preparation. But that only reinforces the point that pitching can be notoriously unpredictable.

As for Lackey, the Sox undoubtedly overpaid for a pitcher who had won more than 14 games just once before signing with Boston. But because he was the lone front-line starter on the market that winter, supply and demand drove his price skyward. To date, he hasn't begun to return the Sox' investment.

In theory, Buchholz, at 26, represents less of a risk. Other than some random, short-term physical setbacks (a hamstring pull running the bases in San Francisco last June), he's been durable.

The Sox are hoping that his 2010 season -- in which he posted the second-lowest ERA among qualifiers in the American League -- represents his potential, with room still to grow.

The fact remains, however, that Buchholz's track record is mostly limited to last season. If that ends up being his career outlier, the Sox just spent a lot of money on an unsure thing.

Just because they have a lot of money committed doesn't mean they have zero flexibility. The club has eaten money on bad deals before. They wisely cut their losses on Edgar Renteria after just one year, and did the same with Julio Lugo after 2 12 unproductive seasons.

But those contracts were a relative pittance compared to some of the salaries given out to the starters.

Consider: In 2013, the Sox will be nearly 53 million to four starting pitchers, or an average of more than 13 million per starter.

That's reasonable money for a big-market team -- assuming the starters are pitching as the Sox forecast. If, on the other hand, the starters are ineffective, they become a financial albatross.

Sure, the Sox could deal off unproductive arms and assume much of the costs. But that merely rids them of the roster spot and not the financial obligation. They might be gone, but from an accounting standpoint, they won't be forgotten.

One of the benefits of having the resources and revenues the Sox have is the ability to make bold moves like the Red Sox have made here. But there's no escaping this fact: The only thing harder than affording quality pitching is attempting to project how it will perform in the future.

Sean McAdam can be reached at Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945


NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945

CHICAGO -- Cursed by a Billy Goat, bedeviled by Bartman and crushed by decades of disappointment, the Chicago Cubs are at long last headed back to the World Series.

Kyle Hendricks outpitched Clayton KershawAnthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras homered early and the Cubs won their first pennant since 1945, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 Saturday night in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series.

The drought ended when closer Aroldis Chapman got Yasiel Puig to ground into a double play, setting off a wild celebration inside Wrigley Field, outside the ballpark and all over the city.

Seeking their first crown since 1908, manager Joe Maddon's team opens the World Series at Cleveland on Tuesday night. The Indians haven't won it all since 1948 - Cleveland and Cubs have the two longest title waits in the majors.

"This city deserves it so much," Rizzo said. "We got four more big ones to go, but we're going to enjoy this. We're going to the World Series. I can't even believe that."

All-everything Javier Baez and pitcher Jon Lester shared the NLCS MVP. Baez hit .318, drove in five runs and made several sharp plays at second base. Lester, a former World Series champion in Boston, was 1-0 with a 1.38 ERA in two starts against the Dodgers.

Deemed World Series favorites since opening day, the Cubs topped the majors with 103 wins to win the NL Central, then beat the Giants and Dodgers in the playoffs.

The Cubs overcame a 2-1 deficit against the Dodgers and won their 17th pennant. They had not earned a World Series trip since winning a doubleheader opener 4-3 at Pittsburgh on Sept. 29, 1945, to clinch the pennant on the next-to-last day of the season.

The eternal "wait till next year" is over. No more dwelling on a history of failure - the future is now.

"We're too young. We don't care about it," star slugger Kris Bryant said. "We don't look into it. This is a new team, this is a completely different time of our lives. We're enjoying it and our work's just getting started."

Hendricks pitched two-hit ball for 7 1/3 innings. Chapman took over and closed with hitless relief, then threw both arms in the air as he was mobbed by teammates and coaches.

The crowd joined in, chanting and serenading their team.

"Chicago!" shouted popular backup catcher David Ross.

The Cubs shook off back-to-back shutout losses earlier in this series by pounding the Dodgers for 23 runs to win the final three games.

And they were in no way overwhelmed by the moment on Saturday, putting aside previous frustration.

In 1945, the Billy Goat Curse supposedly began when a tavern owner wasn't allowed to bring his goat to Wrigley. In 2003, the Cubs lost the final three games of the NLCS to Florida, punctuated with a Game 6 defeat when fan Steve Bartman deflected a foul ball.

Even as recently as 2012, the Cubs lost 101 times.

This time, no such ill luck.

Bryant had an RBI single and scored in a two-run first. Dexter Fowler added two hits, drove in a run and scored one.

Contreras led off the fourth with a homer. Rizzo continued his resurgence with a solo drive in the fifth.

That was plenty for Hendricks, the major league ERA leader.

Hendricks left to a standing ovation after Josh Reddick singled with one out in the eighth. The only other hit Hendricks allowed was a single by Andrew Toles on the game's first pitch.

Kershaw, dominant in Game 2 shutout, gave up five runs and seven hits before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the sixth. He fell to 4-7 in the postseason.

The Dodgers haven't been to the World Series since winning in 1988.

Pitching on five days' rest, the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner threw 30 pitches in the first. Fowler led off with a double, and Bryant's single had the crowd shaking the 102-year-old ballpark.

They had more to cheer when left fielder Andrew Toles dropped Rizzo's fly, putting runners on second and third, and Ben Zobrist made it 2-0 a sacrifice fly.

The Cubs added a run in the second when Addison Russell doubled to deep left and scored on a two-out single by Fowler.


Maddon benched slumping right fielder Jason Heyward in favor of Albert Almora Jr.

"Kershaw's pitching, so I wanted to get one more right-handed bat in the lineup, and also with Albert I don't feel like we're losing anything on defense," Maddon said. "I know Jason's a Gold Glover, but I think Albert, given an opportunity to play often enough would be considered a Gold Glove-caliber outfielder, too."

Heyward was 2 for 28 in the playoffs - 1 for 16 in the NLCS.


Kerry Wood, wearing a Ron Santo jersey, threw out the first pitch and actor Jim Belushi delivered the "Play Ball!" call before the game. Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder and actor John Cusack were also in attendance. And Bulls great Scottie Pippen led the seventh-inning stretch.