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Ryan Dempster, Sox seek rising tide

BOSTON -- He referred to old friend Kevin Millar as a "legend," and lamented that the Red Sox would miss his own bat in the lineup, so we know that pitcher Ryan Dempster has a sense of humor.

Dempster also momentarily slipped in his introductory news conference Wednesday and began to thank the "Chicago" front office before correcting himself, so we can fairly assume that while you can take the man out of the Cubs, it's not quite as easy to take the Cubs out of the man.

Dempster, who did the Derek Lowe thing during his eight-plus seasons with the Cubs (starter and closer), also said he chose to sign a two-year, $26.5 million contract with the Red Sox because, he said, "I believe we have as much chance to win as anyone else." Given the fact that the Red Sox won just 69 games last season, that marks him as a rank optimist, though the worst-to-first turnaround has become almost commonplace: Since 1991, 10 teams have gone worst to first in their division, including Dempster's Cubs in 2007 and the Arizona Diamondbacks three times, so those inclined to assign "bridge year" status to Boston next season, consider yourselves forewarned.

Dempster, who will be 36 next May 3, certainly represents an upgrade over the types of pitchers the Sox signed a year ago to supplement their staff, injury risks such as Aaron Cook and Vicente Padilla. Dempster has pitched 200 or more innings in four of the last five seasons, and, in 2012, when he fell short of that figure, he was in considerable demand before Texas nabbed him at the All-Star break, ranking second in the National League with a 2.25 ERA in 16 starts for a pitiful Cubs team.

The Cubs, Brewers and Royals all took runs at Dempster before he signed with the Red Sox, who showed as much interest in him as anyone, he said Wednesday. He turned down their first offer of two years and $25 million, but when it became apparent he was not going to get a three-year deal anywhere, he took Boston's upgraded offer.

Given his track record, the 15-year veteran with a .500 lifetime record (124-124) and 4.33 ERA figures to slot third in the Sox rotation, behind Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz and ahead of John Lackey and Felix Doubront, although that's just speculation at this point.

"I've said it before and I'll say it again," GM Ben Cherington said Wednesday. "We're excited to have Ryan Dempster, but we believe the performance of the guys who are already here is going to have a bigger effect on the overall rotation than any one player we add. But I think he is a really good fit for a lot of reasons."

Dempster, who began his career with the Florida Marlins in 1998, will be starting a season with an American League team for the first time next season. He struggled initially after his trade to Texas, giving up eight earned runs in two of his first three starts with Texas, but then went 5-0 with a 1.91 ERA in his next five starts, striking out 36 in 33 innings. He wound up with 70 strikeouts in 69 innings for the Rangers, and his 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings with Texas was the highest ratio of his career.

But he, along with the rest of the Rangers, faltered down the stretch, and with the AL West title on the line the last day of the season in Oakland, he couldn't hold on to a 5-1 lead and was knocked out in the fourth inning of Oakland's 12-5 win. In a dozen starts with Texas, he had a 7-3 record and 5.09 ERA.

The Rangers, choosing to focus on free agent Zack Greinke, did not take a run at Dempster. Because he was traded at midseason, the Rangers were not eligible for draft-pick compensation for Dempster if they made a qualifying offer.

Asked to characterize his performance last season, Dempster said: "I don't know. Aside from a few starts, I try to define myself as a consistent person, a consistent pitcher. The first half went extremely well, and after a few starts [in Texas] I started to get on a roll."

Dempster pitched in Fenway Park for the first time in 11 years on Aug. 7, and was credited with the win in a 6-3 victory over Jon Lester, one in which the right-hander gave up three unearned runs on six hits in 6 2/3 innings. He also threw seven scoreless innings against the Sox in Wrigley Field while still with the Cubs in a 3-0 win over Daisuke Matsuzaka on June 15.

A native of Sechelt, British Columbia, Dempster said he has yet "to figure out" whether he would pitch for Canada in the World Baseball Classic next March. "My No. 1 goal is to be ready to pitch for the Boston Red Sox," he said.