One of Theo Epstein’s last gifts to the Red Sox was a certain clause that he put into John Lackey’s contract. Before 2010, the Sox and Lackey’s camp agreed that if Lackey missed an entire season from 2010-2014 — the original terms of his 5 year, $82.5 million deal — that Lackey would be also under contract for the Red Sox for 2015 at a measly price of $500,000.
That’s right. In a league where Ryan Dempster earns roughly $13 million a year to close out Game 1 of the World Series in a 12-2 game, and in a league where Barry Zito and Johan Santana were on their team’s books for approximately $7 billion combined until just last October, the Red Sox will get a pitcher with clutch performances in two world series, a 3.60 ERA, 3.56 FIP, and 2.5 WAR for just half a mil.
But this should only mean one thing: Lackey should be dealt before Thursday’s trade deadline. His low salary next year is obviously incredibly appealing to the Red Sox, but wouldn’t it be more appealing to a team with a limited budget and a need for a playoff performer, rather than a team who won’t make the playoffs and has deeper pockets? Even if Lucchino and co. do want to limit their spending for the next few years, the Red Sox are not the kind of team that is in need of cheap labor. (Actually, with the MLB’s revenue expected to reach $9 billion this year and the high amount of revenue sharing that goes on, no team is in need of cheap labor. It’s just that many teams’ owners claim that they are.)
So the question becomes, which teams would most want Lackey’s services for the rest of this year and for all of 2015 at a price that can only be referred to as a pittance? Glad you asked. Here are the top 6, since Lackey won Game 6 of the World Series in my mind in order of least need for Lackey to most. Take notes, Ben Cherrington.
6: Los Angeles Angels
I debated whether or not to put the Angels in this spot, since it was weird that they didn’t make much of a push to keep Lackey after 2009. Seems like there might not be a ton of mutual love there. Then again, maybe they just knew that some team was going to overpay Lackey (Hi, Theo!), and there was no reason to get into a bidding war that they couldn’t win.
After Jered Weaver and Garrett Richards the Angels need help. I gotta believe that CJ Wilson will turn it around a little bit once coming back from the DL, but Tyler Skaggs hasn’t made the jump fast enough, and Hector Santiago is Hector Santiago. Let Lackey take either the 3rd or 4th starter spot in a market and park where he’s excelled before. It’s a little risky to make this deal if the Angels are just going to be a wild card team (which they practically have wrapped up), since they might lose that opening game, basically rendering Lackey useless for this year. But that’s why it’s a good thing that Lackey will be under contract for 2015, and it’s also worth mentioning that the Halos are just 2 back of the A’s. Get Lackey, bump some underachieving dude from the rotation, and make a run for it. Then pay him next to nothing next year. Then they’ll probably let him walk without putting up much of a fight after 2015 like they did in 2009, but whatever.
5: Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers would be way higher on this list if not for the simple fact that they don’t give a damn about money, making Lackey’s value next year much smaller for the Dodgers than anyone else. But Lackey would still be a cheaper version of the arm that the Dodgers are trying to acquire with the likes of Jon Lester and David Price. They wouldn’t have to give up the prospects that they would for Lester/Price, and they’d get an extra year out of Lackey that they wouldn’t with the other 2 guys. Bump Dan Haren from the rotation (finally), make a run for the division with the Giants, and let Beckett and Lackey eat all the fried chicken they want in the locker room again.
4: Toronto Blue Jays
I’ve been surprised that the Jays aren’t in as many rumors for pitchers as some other teams. After Mark Buerhle and maybe RA Dickey, there’s no one that Jays fans can really feel confident with on the mound in a playoff series. And why wouldn’t the Blue Jays go for it in 2014? The AL East is horrible, and the Orioles are only better than the Jays in terms of run differential by 6 whole runs. Also, they are 2nd in the wild card standings by just a game, and they gotta hold off the Yanks, Mariners, and co. The Red Sox might not want to trade Lackey within the division, but I’ve almost always rejected that notion. Get the best value you can.
3: Milwaukee Brewers
After Kyle Lohse, Yovani Gallardo, Matt Garza, and Wily Peralta, the Brew Crew has Marco Estrada and his 4.94 ERA and -.4 WAR as their 5th man. Lackey would provide an easy upgrade there and then some, and there’s a really good chance he’s take the 4th spot in the playoff rotation, given that Peralta is still so unproven and might regress at any time. In fact, his ERA is 3.56 and his FIP is 4.25, so he’s due to regress tomorrow. Combine that with the fact that Lackey will be cheap labor next year for really small market team, and this is a great fit.
2: Baltimore Orioles
Speaking of that, here’s another AL East team that would love Lackey. The Orioles’ ace is Chris Tillman, who you’d be sorta ok with as your 2nd starter. And, if there’s one thing we know about the Angelos, the Orioles’ owners, it’s that they’re cheap. A proven playoff pitcher who can put the team over the top for about $5 million for the rest of this year and a tenth of that next season? How can they say no? Considering this is my 2nd team in the rankings, I feel like I should have more analysis… but this just seems so self-explanatory.
1: Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates are 30th in WAR for their pitchers, and they’re not even close to 29th. Their rotation is Francisco Liriano, Edinson Volquez, Charlie Morton, Jeff Locke, and Vance Worley, which screams “We need help!” They’re among the cheapest of the small market teams, their fans are dying for a World Series after last season’s heroic playoff run all the way to Game 5 of the NLDS (It’s great to be a Boston sports fan, isn’t it?), they’re 3 games behind the leader in the NL Central and 1.5 back in the wild card… must I go on? There’s no reason for the Pirates not to make this trade. Ben Cherrington should be in Pittsburgh right now trying to sell this trade idea.