The Future Of Josh Beckett And The Dodgers

Starting pitcher Josh Beckett of the Los Angeles Dodgers delivers to home plate against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

Josh Beckett made his debut for the Dodgers on Monday night. It was an outing that Red Sox fans surely recognized. What sort of role do the Dodgers anticipate he'll have next year?

For most of the baseball world, the order of importance with the players involved in the trade between the Dodgers and Red Sox goes like this:

The big draw. If he shook hands with James Loney, a black hole would be generated, and all would be lost. The Dodgers have long employed someone whose only job is to make sure that doesn't happen. Adrian Gonzalez should make the Dodgers better for at least the next few years.

In 2012, a professional baseball team acquired Carl Crawford on purpose. That's still stunning. When a team overpays for a premium free agent like Crawford, they're expecting the value of the deal to be front-loaded. Instant success, followed by a slow decline. That's the plan, at least. The Red Sox got absolutely nothing from Crawford during the first two years of his contract, yet somehow they got out of the decline phase. Crawford could rebound. It's just stunning that another team is taking that chance.

He used to be good. Mumble mumble something about NL West parks and competition mumble shrug he could be good again.

Wait, the Red Sox got prospects and young players, too? That's adorable! The next thing you'll tell me is that some of these guys are really good! If that were the case -- if the Red Sox got a couple of electric young arms and an overlooked hitting prospect -- we certainly would have heard more about them.

Right now, though, let's focus on Beckett, who made his Dodgers debut on Monday night. Over the weekend, Adrian Gonzalez hit a home run in his first Dodgers at-bat, and the baseball world went nuts. If you wanted to paint the scene, it'd probably have Gonzalez on a clamshell, with angels welcoming him to the shore. It was everything the Dodgers hoped.

The first batter that Beckett faced as a Dodger, Tyler Colvin, hit a home run. That might have been the best the-frogurt-is-also-cursed moment in recent baseball history. Oh, right. The Red Sox, desperately in need of pitching, were willing to give away Gonzalez partially so they could be rid of Josh Beckett. That kind of puts things in perspective.

All told, Beckett didn't pitch that poorly on Monday. He allowed three runs and couldn't get out of the sixth, but it was Coors Field and a new team. It's never a good idea to draw a conclusion from one game, but it'd be especially foolish to make too much of this one.

The rest of the season, though, should be something of an extended tryout. Because Beckett is the sixth starter the Dodgers have under contract for 2013. Clayton Kershaw is the ace, and Chad Billingsley isn't going anywhere. Chris Capuano has been fantastic this season, and while Ted Lilly has missed a chunk of this season with shoulder soreness, he should be ready for next year, and he hasn't had a bad full season since 2005. Aaron Harang has been an above-average fifth starter, which is what the Dodgers were hoping for.

So where does Beckett fit in? If he keeps pitching like he has this season, he shouldn't fit in anywhere. Beckett has been the least productive of the six players, and it isn't especially close.

But Beckett has the alluring history. It's probably not as good as people seem to remember -- he's had as many lost seasons as truly fantastic seasons over his career -- but he's still a pitcher with a name, whom people expect to do well. Just last season, he was an All-Star and ninth-place Cy Young finisher, too, so it's not as if everyone's in arrested development and stuck in the distant past. That just happened.

Still, he should have at least five more starts with the Dodgers this season. And those five starts should mean more than his contract or his legacy. If the Dodgers had the confidence to kick Joe Blanton to the curb after four starts, they should be able to do the same for Beckett if he pitches poorly. But Blanton -- a pending free agent who came over for nothing but cash -- isn't a great comparison.

If he pitches well over the last month, this article is moot. The Dodgers will figure something out with their six starters, possibly by moving Lilly to the bullpen. I understand the concerns of reduced velocity for Beckett, but I'll actually guess he'll help the Dodgers more than he hurts. That would make next season's rotation pretty simple to figure out.

But if Beckett's going to reprise his Boston struggles with his new team, the Dodgers will have an interesting decision. And considering the salary he's making, as well as the name-brand mystique of a former All-Star and postseason hero, he'll probably keep getting chance after chance. Blanton was a flyer the Dodgers took because they could. Beckett represents a larger gamble, and he'll get every chance to succeed.

Which makes this last month especially meaningful, even apart from the obvious pennant race. Josh Beckett should be pitching for a job right now, but he probably isn't. He'll probably be in the rotation next season, regardless of what he does. There will be five more starts to let Dodgers fans know if they should be worried or not.

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