The pitcher says injuries and family are reasons enough to forgo a hefty salary, although he won’t close the door on 2015.
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Boston Red Sox right-hander Ryan Dempster plans to take this season off, a decision that surprised teammates and will cost the 16-year veteran $13.25 million in salary.
Dempster said Sunday he is stepping away for physical reasons and to spend more time with his family. But he left a slight opening to play in 2015.
“I had an incredible run, a chance to play 16 years in the major leagues and be around a lot of great teammates, made a lot of good friendships, great friendships,” Dempster said one day before the first formal spring training workout for pitchers and catchers. “I’m totally comfortable with it.”
Dempster, whose contract expires after this season, finished his only year with the Red Sox with an 8-9 record and a 4.57 ERA and didn’t get a start during their successful postseason.
“The past few years have been tougher and tougher,” he said. “As you get older, going through some things, some issues I have with my neck that have made it harder and harder to throw a baseball and throw it like I’m accustomed to throw it” contributed to his decision.
And, he said, “I’ve got three amazing children that I want to watch grow up and be around.”
The Red Sox still have a solid veteran rotation with Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront, and several promising young starters. If they’re seeking a veteran to add depth, they could consider right-handed free agents Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez.
“I like the staff that we have,” Manager John Farrell said.
Several teammates watched as Dempster made his announcement, including Lester, Buchholz, Lackey, Peavy, first baseman Mike Napoli, second baseman Dustin Pedroia, catcher David Ross and reliever Andrew Miller.
“Everybody wants to soak in their last moments of being around him,” Miller said. “He’s a great guy. He left quite his mark and will be remembered fondly around here.”
Dempster said he spoke with the club a few weeks ago about taking the season off.
And what about 2015?
“I don’t know yet,” he said. “If something changes then, obviously, something changes, but I don’t see that changing.”
Dempster pitched with the Florida Marlins, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers and Red Sox. He is 132-133 with a 4.35 ERA and made the All-Star team in 2008 when he went 17-6 with a 2.96 ERA with the Cubs. He was Chicago’s closer from 2005-07, totaling 85 saves.
Boston signed Dempster to a $26.5 million, two-year deal before last season. He pitched just one inning in the World Series, a scoreless ninth in Boston’s 8-1 win over St. Louis in Game 1.
“If this is the end, then this is the end, and what a great way to go out,” Dempster said.
NOTES: The Red Sox signed righty Francisco Cordero to a minor-league contract with an invitation to the major-league camp. A closer for most of his career, he didn’t pitch last year after struggling in 2012. In 14 seasons with six teams, he is 47-53 with a 3.38 ERA and 329 saves. … Miller and the Red Sox agreed to a one-year contract worth $1,903,125, avoiding arbitration.