BOSTON – The Boston Red Sox appear to have the top of their rotation set for the next five years. The rest of it is in pretty good shape, too.

The Red Sox agreed Monday to a $68 million, four-year contract extension with No. 1 starter Josh Beckett, a deal that figures to keep him in Boston alongside free-agent acquisition John Lackey through 2014. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are also under the team’s control for five more seasons.

“It’s hard to have an elite organization without excellent starting pitching,” Boston General Manager Theo Epstein said. “When you have that starting pitching, you don’t want to let it get away. It’s hard to acquire in free agency. It’s hard to acquire in trades. And it’s hard to draft and develop this kind of starting pitching. …

“That’s the biggest building block on which we can go about finishing off the rest of the club.”

Beckett, 29, will make $12.1 million this season in the option year of an extension he signed in 2006. He gets a $5 million signing bonus and yearly salaries of $15.75 million starting in 2011.

He said he did not press for a fifth year like the Red Sox gave Lackey because he was happy to stay with a team that will be competitive.

“This is a special place. I think everybody that’s had a chance to play here knows that,” Beckett said Monday at Fenway Park news conference, a day after pitching the season opener against the New York Yankees.

“A lot of people look at what you lost. I look at what I gained. I look at four more years of stability, knowing I’m going to be on a winning team. The season gets old when you’re losing 90 games. I know I’m going to have a chance to win every year.”

Beckett was MVP of the 2003 World Series for Florida and a key part of Boston’s 2007 title. He started Sunday night’s major league opener against the New York Yankees, allowing five runs and eight hits in 42/3 innings in Boston’s 9-7 victory.

Because the deal was announced after the season started, Beckett’s extension isn’t included in luxury tax calculations until 2011. If the Red Sox announced it before the opener, it would have raised his average annual pay when this year’s payrolls are calculated, potentially increasing the team’s 2010 luxury tax by $882,000.

Beckett is 106-68 with a 3.81 ERA and 1,331 strikeouts in his career. In 14 career postseason starts, he is 7-3 with a 3.07 ERA and three shutouts, one behind Christy Mathewson for the most in major league history.

The extension gives the Red Sox a long-term look at one of baseball’s best rotations.

Lackey signed for five years and $82.5 million. Lester and Buchholz won’t be eligible for free agency until the 2014 season ends. Daisuke Matsuzaka, who is starting the season on the disabled list, is under contract through 2012.

Epstein said he had no medical concerns about Beckett, who spent two stints on the disabled list in 2008.

“We have outstanding medical reports,” Epstein said. “The commitment we make today demonstrates that. There’s not a medical reason why (his success) shouldn’t continue.”


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