Every team is looking for that ace; you know, a pitcher that’s going to give you a quality start once every five games. The question is, should the Red Sox re-sign their ace, Jon Lester?
Some fans have debated if Lester is truly an ace. Yes he has had his good seasons, but is he truly worth the long-term investment?
Lester is 4-6 with a 3.36 ERA in nine games so far this season. He has been the most consistent Red Sox pitcher in 2014, but the team shouldn’t base their decision to keep Lester solely on that.
Lester has been a valuable pitcher for the Red Sox throughout his career. Yes he has pitched in big moments for the team, but if you look at his last two seasons, the future doesn’t look bright.
Lester’s WAR (Wins-Above-Replacement) has decreased in recent seasons. In 2012, his WAR was 0.4 and so far in 2014, his WAR is 1.0. If you look at Lester’s WAR in 2008 and 2009, it was no lower than 5.8.
After the 2009 season, his WAR has been increasingly less ever since. So do the Red Sox give a long-term extension to a pitcher who’s aging and isn’t even that valuable to the team?
Lester will be 31 next season, and you don’t have to think hard to name pitchers who haven’t performed well in their 30s. One slumping and aging pitcher is CC Sabathia of the New York Yankees.
New York signed Sabathia to a seven-year, $161 million contract in 2008. The team also gave him an extension in 2011.
Sabathia is now 33 and in the midst of a second consecutive bad season. He is currently on the disabled list until at least July with a knee injury. The worst part is the Yankees have him under contract for two more seasons after 2014.
Maybe the biggest reason the Red Sox can afford to let Lester walk is the young pitchers in the minor league system. They’ve got a stacked rotation in Pawtucket featuring first round picks Anthony Ranaudo and Matt Barnes, hard throwing former Dodgers Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster, and last year’s World Series set-up man Brandon Workman.
In Portland, they have one of their top prospects in Henry Owens, who almost threw a no-hitter earlier this month. There are also other players deeper in the farm system as well, like last year’s seventh overall pick Trey Ball.
While we don’t know if these pitchers can replicate or surpass the success of Lester, you have to give them an opportunity to see if they can become starters in the majors. Ranaudo, De La Rosa and Webster have all shown they have potential, but they lack the major league experience you get from Lester.
Right now, Lester brings top-of-the-rotation upside, while staying mostly healthy. While Lester’s injury history is short, you never know if a player’s body can hold up once they enter their mid to late 30s.
Boston has a tough decision to make after the 2014 season. Do they left another player walk away, possibly to a rival, much like Jacoby Ellsbury? Or do they spend the money necessary to keep Lester in Beantown? It is a huge gamble no matter what the Red Sox decide to do.