A covered bridge

Red Sox zeroing in on 5-year deal for Lackey

John Lackey, who won a World Series with the Angels, has a winning attitude that would fit right in with the Red Sox. John Lackey, who won a World Series with the Angels, has a winning attitude that would fit right in with the Red Sox. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / December 15, 2009

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The Red Sox are close to signing John Lackey to a five-year deal, possibly locking up the best free agent pitcher of this offseason and perhaps reclaiming the title of baseball’s best staff.

The move - which reportedly approximates the Yankees’ five-year, $82.5 million deal given to A.J. Burnett last season - would provide the Sox some flexibility.

With Josh Beckett in the last year of his contract, the Sox are in a better position to negotiate with him, negotiations which may have already begun. It also could give the Sox the room to move Clay Buchholz - perhaps at the trading deadline - in a deal for offense.

Lackey was in Boston yesterday for a physical, according to a source with knowledge of the situation. As of late yesterday afternoon, the Sox were still examining Lackey and the deal had not been completed, though it was expected to get done. The physical was first reported by AOL Fanhouse.

The 31-year-old righthander is second only in available players to Roy Halladay, who also appears to be on the move. Halladay was in Philadelphia yesterday for a physical as a precursor to a move that would send him from Toronto to the Phillies in a three-team deal that also involved the Mariners.

With the Blue Jays likely shedding their best pitcher, and the Yankees’ rotation lacking behind CC Sabathia, Burnett, and Andy Pettitte, that leaves the Sox positioned to match any rotation in baseball, certainly any in the AL East.

If the deal for Lackey gets completed, that would leave the Sox with Beckett, Lackey, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield, and Buchholz. The Sox would not only have depth to counter an injury to Wakefield or the question marks regarding Matsuzaka, they would have a trio of aces.

Lackey is 102-71 over eight seasons, with a 3.81 ERA. He came in third in the 2007 Cy Young voting (behind Sabathia and Beckett), when he won 19 games. That’s his highest total, having no more than 14 wins in any other season. He went 11-8 with a 3.83 ERA in 2009. His postseason numbers are good, with a 3.12 ERA in 14 games (12 starts), though only a 3-4 record.

Over the last two seasons, though, Lackey made only 51 starts and threw only 339 2/3 innings because of injuries.

He does not have a particularly good record at Fenway (2-5, 5.75 ERA), but if the deal goes through he won’t have to face the team that tormented him at times.

Lackey has an emotional side, a desire to have the ball in the big moments. When Angels manager Mike Scioscia went to the mound to remove Lackey from Game 5 of the 2009 American League Championship Series, the pitcher yelled, “This is mine!’’ though he was taken out of the game. He wasn’t ready to leave the game, a personality trait that would play well in Boston.

With the Sox unlikely to complete a deal for Jason Bay, whose agent painted a dire picture over the weekend about Boston’s chances, general manager Theo Epstein is moving to upgrade the team. A step was taken to fill an outfield spot by agreeing to a deal with veteran Mike Cameron.

Boston also has its third base situation unsettled. The deal that would send Mike Lowell to Texas is not done, and there is no timeline, according to a team source. If it happens, the Sox would either fill in with a third baseman or move first baseman Kevin Youkilis to third to complete what should be an upgraded infield with Marco Scutaro at shortstop.

Instead of their traditional day game on Opening Day, the Sox will begin the 2010 season under the lights - and against the Yankees.

Major League Baseball yesterday announced Game 1 will occur Sunday, April 4, at Fenway at 8 p.m. It will be the fifth time in the last six years that the World Series champions have played the Sunday night game to open the season. It also marks the 30th time the Sox and Yankees have started the season against each other, with the last time at Fenway Park in 1985. Times and dates for the other games of the three-game series have not been announced. MLB is working on the schedule, given that the teams would have two consecutive days off after the opener. The Sox visit Kansas City and Minnesota after the opening series against New York.

Nick Cafardo and Pete Abraham of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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