Can John Lackey Rebound to Fill Red Sox Void?

With division rivals Baltimore and Tampa  already deep in young pitching ( and the Orioles in the market for more), and the Blue Jays acquiring two bona fide starters already ( Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson), it is apparent that the Boston Red Sox are going to have to improve their rotation in 2013 if they hope to return to the AL playoffs.  One possible solution, John Lackey, is already in their fold.  But what can they hope for from Lackey in the season ahead?

Lackey, signed by the Sox following the 2009 campaign for five years and a sum of some $82 million, has been far from worth it so far.  While his won-lost record doesn't quite reflect the full disappointment he has been ( Lackey has not had a losing season since his sophomore campaign, 2003, when he went 10-16 in his first full season), he has not met the standards of his pay scale at any time as a Red Sox.

Eight years in an Angel's uniform saw Lackey produce a healthy winning pct of .590, while posting an ERA of 3.81.  Changing coasts meant an instant drop in his performance, and for the two seasons he competed for Boston his ERA ballooned to 5.26, though he still managed to stay 3 games above .500 with a net 26-23 record.   Not exactly what the Sox front office thought they were buying.  His situation deteriorated during the 2011 campaign, as Lackeys' performance not only worsened as the season wound down, he failed to win a start after Aug. 23, and lasted 6 innings in only 1 of his 5 September starts.  Compounding the poor output, Lackey's name was bandied about as one of the Red Sox whose attitude was as weak as their performances, undermining former hero-manager Terry Francona to the point that his time as Boston's leader was done.

After the 2011 season, Lackey was diagnosed with an elbow injury.  He underwent the reconstructive procedure now known as Tommy John surgery later that fall.  Lackey missed the entire 2012 season as he recuperated.

Still under contract through the 2014 season, John is owed approximately 15 million for each of the upcoming 2 years, about what a top free agent pitcher might get in today's market.  While it may be silly for the Sox to think Lackey will come back as a top ( No. 1 or 2) starter, they did announce on the 15th of this month that he is now considered probable to be ready at the start of spring training.

A guy who was a proven winner for several years, and has felt the heat of five trips to post-season play (he started and beat the SF Giants in the 2002 World Series following his rookie season in which he had only pitched 108 major league innings), Lackey always was more of a finesse pitcher than a thrower, an adjustment many hurlers have to make AFTER undergoing the Tommy John procedure.

With the right mind frame, and with new Bosox manager (a rare pitcher turned field general) John Farrell there to monitor and mentor him, the Sox have little to lose by giving Lackey the opportunity to come back.  Unable to deal him this winter, as he is still unproven, and committed to pay his salary, it seems like the news that Lackey will have the full month of March to work on his stamina and mechanics can only be a plus.

It seems that this is a player in a position to show the Red Sox faithful that he is in this game for more than the money, (that's coming to him in any case) and can still contribute enough to make his signing something a whole lot better than a total bust.

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