Daily Distractions: Putting Josh Beckett’s optimism in its proper context.

Josh Beckett

Josh Beckett had a rib removed from the right side of his rib cage in July. (Associated Press)

In his first interview of the spring, Dodgers pitcher Josh Beckett declared himself healthy and ready to pitch when the 2014 season begins.

Beckett’s optimism is nothing new. He was so upbeat about his recovery from thoracic outlet surgery last August that one reporter was compelled to ask if Beckett intended to pitch at some point in the postseason.

But Beckett’s optimism is like the cushioned cork at the center of a baseball. It’s surrounded by layers of yarn and cowhide and leather stitching that need to be unwound. By itself, Beckett’s healthy optimism and optimal health are great developments, but they need to put in context.

For one thing, Beckett is 33 years old. His record the past two seasons is 7-19. His early-career track record is stellar: a World Series MVP award at age 23; 80 wins and a 116 ERA+ in the span of his 25-to-29-year-old prime; an all-star appearance with Boston as recently as three years ago. But then you point to Beckett’s age, and his last two seasons, and you wonder what he’s doing in the starting rotation of a team with a $240 million-plus payroll.

Then there’s the nature of thoracic outlet surgery. It hasn’t been in baseball as long as Tommy John surgery, for example. Chris Carpenter had the procedure recently — Beckett told reporters yesterday that Carpenter’s thoracic outlet syndrome was worse than his own — as did Daniel Bard, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Shaun Marcum. That’s a short list. It doesn’t offer nearly large enough a sample size to conclude, with the same degree of certainty, how long Beckett will need to make a full recovery.

So we have Beckett’s word, his medical reports (you and I don’t, but the Dodgers do), and his track record, and not much else. Then we have a locker in the Camelback Ranch clubhouse with Paul Maholm‘s nameplate overhead, and should it really come as a surprise that the Dodgers took out a $1.5 million insurance policy in the form of a sixth starter?

Not really. And that’s not a reflection on Beckett or his health, so much as the Dodgers’ financial wherewithal. As the Dodgers learn what Beckett can do post-surgery, there’s less at stake in the final outcome of the process. Management can sit back, watch, and be happy for Beckett if he makes a full recovery. And hey, maybe you get a fifth starter at the end of camp.

How’s that for some annual start-of-spring-training optimism?

Some bullet points for a Tuesday morning:
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