Beckett an ace at passing along advice

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / February 20, 2010

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FORT MYERS, Fla. - There are some instructions that Casey Kelly doesn’t mind following. Such as when Red Sox manager Terry Francona told him to follow around Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, learning about routines and workouts and professionalism from a pair of staff aces.

It’s similar to the instructions Francona once gave Lester, to follow around Beckett, to learn from a player noted for his preparation and performance.

“He’s been great,’’ Kelly said of Beckett. “He said hi to me and everything like that. Not really used to talking to those guys, and them saying hi to you. When they do say hi to you, you just try to act like it’s not a big deal. But inside you’re like, ‘Oh, my God.’ I think I haven’t smiled too much or shown too much excitement.

“The couple of days that I’ve been here and seen them, the work ethic is just unbelievable. They’re always in here, doing weights and conditioning. They’re always busting their [butts] trying to get better. They’re never satisfied. That’s what I’ve seen the last couple days, that they’ve won a lot of games, won a couple World Series, but they’re not satisfied still. They work hard. That’s something I want to take to my workouts.’’

But it’s possible that the next generation of Sox pitchers won’t have Beckett to trail around the player development complex.

With the 29-year-old Beckett in the final year of his contract, there are no guarantees the sides will reach agreement on an extension. Not that Francona has any doubts that Beckett will be focused on this season, rather than his contract situation.

“I just know how he approaches things,’’ Francona said. “I know how Theo [Epstein] approaches things. I’ve heard their communication. It’s not a concern.’’

Although it’s obvious that losing Beckett would affect the team on the field, it’s harder to quantify what Beckett has meant to some of the younger members of the staff. He’s not a vocal leader in the clubhouse, but it’s always Beckett (and now Lester) whom the coaching staff and management entrust with their young talent. It happened with Clay Buchholz, and now it’s happening with Kelly.

“I think it would definitely help out this organization, not only on the field but off for however many years they sign him,’’ Lester said. “Obviously, he’s helped me out a lot as far as preparing, just being a professional. It’s not necessarily because he sits down and he says, ‘This is what you need to do.’ He just does it and you just learn from it.

“The Red Sox have always been good about that. They’ve always brought in guys that are professional and do their work and go out and perform. So I was very fortunate to be around a lot of veterans that did that and learned a lot of things from it. But I think it would be a huge loss for this organization for him not to come back. Obviously on the field a lot too, but definitely in the clubhouse, he’d be a guy missed in there.’’

In fact, Lester still doesn’t feel like he’s someone to be followed. He feels as if there are things for him to learn, for him to improve upon, even with all his success the last couple of years. He still needs Beckett. And he knows the team needs Beckett.

It seems likely that any contract extension for Beckett will be in the neighborhood of the five-year, $82.5 million free agent deal signed by John Lackey in the offseason. With that contract, and the one signed by Lester last spring, plus Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka each having years left of control by the Sox, the rotation appears solid for the future. With Beckett signed, that would add more stability. But it also means the Sox have some insurance against Beckett’s departure.

As for Lester’s deal, even as he watches pitchers in his age range and with similar accomplishments get bigger money - Felix Hernandez signed for five years and $78 million; Justin Verlander for five years and $80 million - Lester doesn’t regret his signing.

“I’m happy with what I did,’’ said Lester said, who got $30 million over five years. “I wouldn’t change anything for anything. I’m happy with the deal I signed. They don’t have my [medical] past. So it’s hard to sit here and second-guess what I did. Tomorrow I could go into the doctor and something could be wrong again, I could never play baseball. I’m 100 percent happy with what I did. I’m happy for them. It helps the game out. It keeps pushing that bar higher and higher. But as for me, I wouldn’t trade anything.’’

Lester, in fact, went to see an oncologist last week. Everything checked out fine and, after seeing the doctor every six months the last three visits, he might be able to graduate to appointments only once a year. He said, “Hopefully we can keep going in that direction and in two years we’ll not have to talk about it anymore.’’

But here at spring training, Lester is concentrating more on preparing for the season. He’s working with Beckett, walking with Beckett, helping Beckett teach the prospects. And although Lester probably is not contemplating life without Beckett, he and his manager understand just what Beckett means to the other pitchers - from the kids to the veterans.

“Beckett is important to a lot of people in there, and we let him know that today,’’ Francona said. “He’s a leader of that staff. He’s earned that respect and there’s a lot that comes with it. People look up to him, and I think he’s proud of that. He should be.’’

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.

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