Pretty much every player in the Majors goes on waivers at some point in August, so the fact that Josh Beckett was placed on waivers isn’t really news. However, unlike most players in baseball, Beckett will almost certainly clear waivers, since he’s due approximately $4 million over the remainder of the 2012 season and $15.75 million in each of the next two seasons. Any team claiming Beckett would be on the hook for $36 million, and he’s clearly not worth that kind of investment at this point, so he’ll sail through waivers without any blinking.
Once he clears, the Red Sox will be able to trade him to any team that’s interested, and they can create additional interest by picking up a significant chunk of his salary in order to move him. At that point, the question becomes how much cash Boston should be willing to eat to move on from their struggling former ace.
To determine that, we essentially have to figure out what Beckett’s open market value would be. If he were to hit the market this winter, what kind of contract would he get? To start off, here’s what some free agents who had underachieved based on their peripherals got in recent years:
Capuano, de la Rosa, and Harden were all worth between +1.5 and +2.0 WAR based on their FIP in the season preceding their free agency, so by just BB/K/HR, they were pretty close to Beckett’s +1.8 WAR right now. Vazquez was significantly worse, but also was just one year removed from excellence, but like Beckett had experienced significant velocity loss. None of these guys are perfect comparisons for Beckett, but it gives us an idea of how the market values guys with good stuff (or formerly good stuff) whose peripherals suggest that they may be in line for some positive regression.
I think Beckett’s history would be viewed more positively than Capuano’s or Harden’s due to health, and probably better than Vazquez due to his previous success in the AL East. My guess is that Beckett now would be viewed in a somewhat more positive light than those three were at the time, but probably not as positively as de la Rosa, who was coming off a pretty solid season at the end of 2010. So, let’s just split the difference between Capuano and de la Rosa and estimate 2/15 as Beckett’s market value.
Essentially, then, we’d be suggesting that the Red Sox would need to pick up half of the remaining money left on his deal in 2013 and 2014 in order to give him away, and that doesn’t account for the $4 million he’s still owed in 2012, or the fact that most teams would rather pick up a little extra money in order to get a more interesting prospect in return. So, perhaps we have to bump up the total cost for the Red Sox to move Beckett to over $20 million, which would cover half of his future guarantees and essentially all of his remaining 2012 money.
If Boston was willing to do that, should any playoff contenders be interested in taking on 2/15 in future commitments to get a nearly-free-but-struggling pitcher for the stretch run?
Certainly, he’s not trending the right way. His August performance has been hideous, as opposing batters have hit .300/.372/.681 against him this month, and his July performance was his worst of the season before August rolled around. It’s not just a high BABIP either – he’s running an 8.91 FIP and 6.04 xFIP this month, as his walks and homers are way up and his strikeouts are way down. His velocity is still well below what it has been in prior seasons, and his stuff simply isn’t what it used to be.
However, it’s the same stuff he was throwing in the first half of the season, when he was productive for decent stretches of time. In the first three months of the season, opposing batters hit .236 with a .282 on base percentage against Beckett, and his .291 wOBA against from March-June is slightly better than Josh Johnson’s .299 wOBA against this year. He was a benefactor of a low-ish BABIP for those three months, but they at least show that this version of Beckett can be somewhat effective, even with lower velocity.
By month, Beckett has had xFIPs of 4.40, 3.78, 3.80, 4.53, and now 6.04. In other words, he’s looked decent for about 40% of the year, looked mediocre for 40% of the year, and looked horrendous for 20% of the season. We can’t ignore the fact that horrendous is the most recent performance, but we shouldn’t also assume that Beckett is incapable of providing some value in his current form.
So, what team could use a wild card in their rotation for the next month, potentially giving them another bullet to fire in October, and would be willing to take on $15 million in salary over the next two years to take Beckett off the Red Sox hands?
How about the Washington Nationals? Since they’re intent on shutting down Stephen Strasburg, they’re going to need a starter to cover his last “two or three” starts, according to Davey Johnson. While Ross Detwiler has filled in admirably as the fifth starter, he’s got a pretty large platoon split (.227 wOBA vs LHBs, .311 vs RHBs) and was extremely effective in his stint out of the bullpen. If moving Beckett to the NL gets him going again, Beckett would be a better option as a #4 starter in the playoffs, and allow the team to use Detwiler out of the bullpen in October as well.
Having Beckett in the fold for 2013 and 2014 would allow them to reallocate the money they might otherwise have to use to re-sign Edwin Jackson on bringing in another hitter as well, or a temporary move back to the NL East could help Beckett re-establish some value and they could flip him this winter if they preferred the option of bringing Jackson back.
The Beckett-Red Sox marriage seems like it needs to end for the sanity of everyone involved. Moving him now, when a team like Washington could potentially get some value out of him in October, is probably going to be easier than moving him in the off-season, when teams can bargain hunt among the available free agents. If his current funk hasn’t scared everyone off, perhaps the Nationals and Red Sox can make a deal that helps both sides.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.