Boston Red Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster plans to take this season off, a decision that will cost him $13.25 million in salary.
The 36-year-old right-hander said Sunday he is stepping away for physical reasons and to spend more time with his family. But he left the door open to returning 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 in a surprise announcement one day before the first formal spring training workout for pitchers and catchers. “I’m totally comfortable with it. I’m at peace with my decision.”
Dempster, who pitched for the Portland Sea Dogs in 1998, finished his only season with the Red Sox with an 8-9 record and a 4.57 ERA and didn’t get a start during the Boston’s postseason run to a World Series title.
“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.
The Red Sox still have a solid veteran rotation with Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront. If they’re seeking a veteran starter to add depth, they could consider right-handed free agents Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez.
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,” said Miller, who agreed to terms on a one-year, non-guaranteed contract for the 2014 season, thus avoiding salary arbitration. “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.
He pitched for 16 seasons 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.
Boston signed Dempster to a $26.5 million, two-year deal before last season. He will lose half that amount by sitting out this year.
“There aren’t too many people who could say that the time is right to walk away from a game that I love, that’s treated me so well,” Red Sox reliever Craig Breslow said, “and particularly when there’s a pretty sizeable amount of money that’s being left on the table.”
General Manager Ben Cherington said Dempster told him of the decision about 10 days ago.
“It came out of left field,” Cherington said.
Players didn’t find out until Sunday.
“At first I didn’t really know what to say. It caught me off guard,” Napoli said. “That’s how everyone wants to go out, on their own terms.”