On the eve of Spring Training, Jon Lester, the Sox best starter and post-season hero, announced that he’d like to stay with the Red Sox when his current contract expires at the end of the 2014 season. Surprisingly and happily (for the Red Sox) he said he’d even take a hometown discount to stay.
So, how did the Sox react? “Refreshing,” they opined. That’s it?
It’s been almost a month since Lester spoke out publicly and it’s less than two weeks before Opening Day. Lester will be on the hill for the Red Sox by the way. And not a single word in the mainstream media on any contract negotiations. Why not? This is either being kept a secret on a scale of the Invasion of Normandy or the Sox are guilty of malfeasance by not trying to re-sign Lester for the long-term—and soon—particularly, after his stated desire to be a life-long Red Sox
The argument for keeping Lester on his pitching merits is almost ironclad. Consider: He’s just 30 years old and he’s never even had a hint of arm trouble. In 5 of the last 6 years (the hideous Bobby Valentine 2012 excluded), Lester has had a minimum of 15 wins and averaged 205 innings pitched. Lester is also a monstrously good (great!) big game pitcher. He has 6 post season victories for the Red Sox with an ERA of 2.11 in the playoffs and World Series. And he’s done this in the most difficult environment in all of baseball—Boston, where every game is the War of the Roses.
Who else can claim the same and what would the cost be?
I am not saying that Lester should get Clayton Kershaw money (7 years, $25 million) but when the comparatively mediocre Homer Bailey was recently resigned by the Reds at 6 years and $105M, alarm bells should have gone off on Yawkey Way. Not to mention the Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka, who just signed a 7 year, $155M deal without having pitched a single inning in the big leagues. The simple fact of the matter is that starting pitching salaries always go up. Great ones, even just good ones, are worth their weight in gold.
After the 2014 season, the Tiger’s Max Scherzer and likely David Price of the Rays will both be on the Free Agent market. Their salaries will be astronomical. Should he make it to free agency, Lester will almost certainly make a ton of money if for no reason other than the “a rising tide raises all boats” theory. And it will likely be a lot more than he’d ask the Red Sox for right now.
It’s obvious and understandable that the Sox are very optimistic about the cadre of strong-armed starting pitching potential they’ve accumulated in the minor leagues. Webster. Renaudo. Barnes. Owens.
But asking them to step in and be major league pitchers from the get-go is like whistling past the graveyard, and certainly not Jon Lester-like effective.
From my perch, if Lester has said he’s ready and willing, the Red Sox should vote with their pocketbooks—before Opening Day.