It probably isn’t much of a comfort to distraught Boston Red Sox fans this morning to note the team still has about 3.8 years and roughly $57 million left of its commitment to veteran right-hander John Lackey. There is almost nothing that can change that calculus. He is untradeable. The Red Sox are stuck with him.
On Wednesday night, Lackey’s season seemed to go from terrible to borderline-disastrous, after he gave up nine runs in a gruesome loss in Toronto, leaving his 2011 record at 2-5 and his ERA at 8.01. This follows an eight-runs-allowed performance in his previous trip to the mound. All told, Lackey has allowed eight or more earned runs three times already this season — something all other American League pitchers combined have done only five times.
Adding to the intrigue surrounding Lackey — to whom the Red Sox handed a five-year $82.5 million contract before the 2010 season — was something he said after Wednesday night’s loss: “Everything in my life [stinks] right now, to be honest with you.” Given an opportunity to elaborate, Lackey declined.
It’s always dangerous to make assumptions about someone’s personal life, but Lackey did reveal during spring training that his wife, Krista, was undergoing treatment for breast cancer. It is a reminder that baseball players are human, and we have no way of knowing what sort of personal baggage they are carrying with them on the field from day to day.
Still, Lackey’s tailspin comes at a terrible time for the Red Sox, who are fighting to get to .500 after an awful start, and who open a three-game series at Yankee Stadium on Friday. At this point, there is little the Red Sox can do besides hope Lackey’s performance improves. But the numbers offer little encouragement: He is 32 years old, with a recent history indicating a gradual decline that had begun long before he signed his Red Sox deal. From 2005 to 2010, his ERA rose in four out of five seasons. His strikeouts-per-nine-innings rate dropped in all five seasons.
This is not to second-guess the Red Sox’s signing of Lackey. At the time — the winter of 2009-10 — he was clearly the best starting pitcher on the free agent market, and the Red Sox were making a concerted effort to build around pitching and defense. While he was inconsistent at times in 2010, he still gave the Red Sox 215 innings and 14 wins.
On a human level, let’s wish health and happiness to Lackey and his family. As for those 3.8 years remaining on his Red Sox contract, you can look at them another way as well: There is plenty of time left for him to get himself turned around.