Instead, the right-hander announced that he would not be pitching at all in 2014. Citing both physical reasons and the desire to spend more time with his family, Dempster will be placed on the restricted list and will forfeit the $13.25 million he was due this season.
The 16-year veteran isn’t calling it retirement just yet, still leaving the door open to return in 2015, but one thing is for sure: he won’t be around to help Boston defend its World Series championship in 2014.
“I joked with John a little bit—‘Sorry, Skip, to throw this on you in the last minute, but you’re going to have to find another Opening Day starter,’” Dempster said at the Sunday morning news conference.
Making his big league debut with the Florida Marlins, Dempster spent eight years of his career with the Chicago Cubs, also playing for the Cincinnati Reds and Texas Rangers, and finishing with the Sox and a World Series ring.
Making 29 starts for the Sox last year, the 36-year-old finished his only year with Boston with an 8-9 record and a 4.57 ERA. Dempster pitched the ninth inning of Boston’s 8-1 Game 1 win against the Cardinals. He gave up a leadoff homer to Matt Holiday, but struck out Matt Adams to end the game in what would be the last of his 584 big league appearances.
“I just feel like where I’m at with my health, how I feel personally, I just feel like it’s in the best interests of both myself and the organization and the team to not play this year. I don’t feel like I can compete or produce the way I’m accustomed to,” said Dempster, who choked up with emotion when his attention was called to the presence of all of his teammates who attended his news conference.”
Realistically, it is a loss that the Sox should easily be able to absorb. The sixth pitcher in a five-man rotation, it’s likely that Dempster was never going to have a big role on the 2014 Red Sox, anyway. With Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jake Peavy, and Clay Buchholz locked into the top four spot in the rotation, Dempster was expected to compete in spring training for that fifth spot with Felix Doubront and Brandon Workman. But even more so, Dempster was faced with the very real possibility of pitching in relief or being traded.
But, he was veteran depth. If one of the five starters went down, Dempster would have been there, especially filling the gap when Buchholz was out with a shoulder injury. This depth became a huge factor in Boston’s trip to the World Series because there was always a good replacement for an injured player. Dempster’s departure allows the next wave of youngsters—Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa, Drake Britton, Henry Owens, Matt Barnes, and Anthony Ranaudo—to move step closer to a big league start.
“In a career full of earning respect and building respect, he’s ending his time with the Red Sox in a way that only bolsters that, strengthens that feeling about him,” General Manager Ben Cherington said. “It was ultimately the right thing to do in his mind. That doesn’t mean it was an easy thing to do, and I have great respect for him making the decision that way.”
Emotionally, it is a significant loss for Boston. On a team that stressed chemistry, he was the poster child for it; the ultimate clubhouse guy. Dempster’s contributions in his year with the Sox went beyond statistics (lucky for him since his 2013 season was anything but stellar). He was a great teammate with an undeniable work ethic and an endless supply of good humor. On team flights, Dempster often would hijack the microphone and entertain his teammates with jokes or impressions. In July, after David Ortiz smashed a dugout phone in Baltimore during a temper tantrum, Dempster connected two cans with a string the next day and had everyone laughing.
And we can’t forget his impeccable fashion sense. Anyone who rocks a plaid suit is a winner in my book.
“I had 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. “I’m totally comfortable with it. I’m at peace with my decision.”
If this is the end for Dempster, he will finish his career with a 132-133 record, 87 saves, a 4.53 ERA, and a 1.43 WHIP. Dempster twice made the All-Star team and won 17 games for the Cubs in 2008. He made close to $90 million in his career and earned a reputation for reliability.
If this is the end, if last year was his last hoorah, then I, along with the rest of Red Sox nation, would like to thank him for drilling ARod. Thank you, Dempster.