Dempster: 'I'm not ready to go out there'

Dempster: 'I'm not ready to go out there'
February 16, 2014, 4:00 pm
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FORT MYERS, Fla -- In a matter of minutes, on an otherwise sleepy Sunday morning, days before the first official full team workout, the Red Sox' excess in starting pitching disappeared.
    
As did Ryan Dempster.
    
Claiming that he wasn't "physically or mentally ready" to compete in the big leagues, Dempster, who turns 37 in May, announced publicly what he had told the Red Sox almost two weeks ago -- that he would not be pitching in 2014.
    
Dempster stopped short of officially announcing his retirement, though it's difficult to imagine returning to the mound at 38, following a year off.
    
His announcement temporarily alleviated the overcrowding in the Red Sox rotation, who have five other veteran starters -- Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront -- even as it sent shockwaves through the Red Sox' spring training complex.
    
"After a long off-season and thinking about things,'' said Dempster, "and seeing where I was at, both physically and personally, I made a decision that I'm not going to pitch in the 2014 season and go from there. I had an incredible run, a chance to play 16 years in the major leagues, be around a lot of great teammates, make a lot of great friendships, but I just feel given where I'm at with my health, how I feel personally, I just feel it's in the best interest of both myself and the organization to not play this year.
    
"I don't feel like I can compete or produce like I'm accustomed to, so I'm not going to play this year and instead I'm going to be a spectator and a fan and cheer on all these great teammates that I have and go out there and watch them win another World Series.
    
"I'm not ready to go out there and do my job. I have too much respect for this game and too much respect for my teammates to go out there and do it and not be ready. I've always taken great pride in being out there and be prepared to go out there and be ready to perform and I'm not ready to do that. I'm not going to go out there and a half-ass it and not be 100 percent committed.''
    
Dempster will thus forfeit his $13.25 million salary this season. The Red Sox will likely put him on the restricted list before Opening Day and retain his rights through the end of the current season.
    
Dempster revealed that he's dealing with bone spurs and a "disc issue'' in his neck.
    
"The past few years have been tougher and tougher as you get older,'' he said. "Some issues I've had with my neck have made it harder and harder to throw a baseball and throw it like I'm accustomed to throw it. Those are things that I could spent the entire season trying to work through and try to get out there and pitch, but I just feel like it's something that's prevening me from doing the job I want to do and I'm not going to go out there and put my team at a disadvantage or me at a disadvantage by not being able to compete the way I've been able to compete.
    
"I'm totally comfortable and at peace with my decision. Not pitching this year is going to be weird. It's going to be different. But I'm excited by the possibilities.''
    
As for 2015, Dempster said he didn't envision his status "changing anywhere in the future, but I also don't want to close the door on that. So I'm just looking at it from this year going forward.''
    
Dempster signed a two-year, $26 million deal with the Red Sox after the 2012 season. He was 8-9 with a 4.57 ERA in 29 starts (32 appearances). He'll leave $13.25 million on the table, having made, according to estimates by BaseballReference.com some $89.1 million over his 16-year career.
    
"I've been really, really fortunate and extremely humbled by the amount of money that I've made,'' he said. "It's provided for me and my family years and years, and hopefully my kids' kids. So the money was not that much of a difficult decision. I think (a tougher factor) was having the opportunity to come back into the locker room and be a part of a team that's going to go out there and win another World Series.
    
"I always said it's fun to win a World Series, but it's way more fun to be the champ and I know what that feeling's been like all this off-season. To be the one that everyone's gunning for and trying to defend it is something that everybody in that locker room relishes and can't wait for that opportunity. I'm a little sad that I won't be around for that opportunity like I'd like to be. But that's a choice I made, a decision I made for where I'm at, and I'm comfortable with it.''
    
Dempster also cited a wish to spend time with his three children.
    
He arrived at camp Saturday and began quietly sharing his plans with teammates and the coaching staff. He had already held conversations with general manager Ben Cherington and manager John Farrell before arriving, certain that his mind was made up.
    
"It's not an easy thing to do,'' he acknowledged of the process. "It's my whole life. It's all I've ever known.''
    
One of the most popular players on the team, Dempster's press conference was attended by about 10 teammates, including fellow starters Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz and Jake Peavy. He referred to his teammates -- past and present -- as a ''fraternity'' and the only time he turned emotional during the press conference was when he was asked about the show of support from his teammates who watched from behind a ring of reporters.
    
"I don't want to look at them right now,'' he said staring at the ground, his voice choking slightly.
    
He added that he had never before enjoyed the game as much as he did in  2013, his one and only season in Boston.
    
After a disappointing 2013, Dempster wasn't guaranteed a spot in the rotation for 2014, but he said the prospect of being moved to the bullpen -- or being traded elsewhere -- didn't influence his decision.
    
"That didn't play a factor at all,'' he said. "I love competing . . . (But)it was getting harder and harder to execute the way I wanted to execute and do the things I wanted to do. I'm really, really lucky that I get to do this on my own terms.''
    
As much as he enjoyed competing, Dempster said he would miss the camaraderie of the game the most and vowed to visit the Sox from time to time.
    
"I've never had to work a day in my life,'' said Dempster. "That's a pretty special thing. I've been able to do what I wanted to do since I was a little kid and do it at the highest level for a long time. It's meant the world to me.
    
"If this is the end, then this is the end and what a great way to go out. To sit there and think about the last batter I potentially could ever face in the big leagues was a strikeout to end Game 1 of the World Series -- what better way to write it.''