Asked in an interview last night if he would have taken an offer from the Red Sox of $120 million last spring, Jon Lester said,”Probably yes.” He refused to blame the Red Sox for low-balling him and said his feelings were not hurt by the offer. But that’s Lester, a guy with class.
I will always blame the Red Sox for low-balling Jon Lester last spring. I understand that he eventually signed for money the Sox could not or would not spend, but the opportunity to sign him in the spring of 2014 was squandered by an organization that would have taken advantage of the “hometown discount” Lester was expected to give. They wanted him for the lowest possible price.
Of course Lester went on to have one of his best seasons and raised his market value, but heck, he had just pitched them to a World Series championship. What more incentive did the Red Sox need? This was a simple case of the undervaluing the best pitcher they had, and coming out looking like skinflints.
It remains to be seen if Lester can warrant the big money the Cubs paid him this past week, but all indicators are that he will. He is probably not yet at his peak as a pitcher and could easily turn his first twenty-game winning season under Joe Maddon, who knows how to groom pitchers.
Not only did the Red Sox lose Lester, but they cemented their reputation for not paying the market value on top-flight pitchers. They will not acquire a pitching ace this year, except by trade. If they did acquire Cole Hamels or Johnny Cueto through a trade, they will either pay them large salaries in the future or lose them the same way they lost Lester. This will always leave a gap at the top of their rotation.
The party line in Boston is that the ace “will emerge” from the pack of good pitching prospects they acquired this fall. This is a rationalization of convenience. They won’t pay for an established pitcher, so they wish they will make an ace out of the better-than-average pitching they have acquired. The only aces the Red Sox have developed out of their own organization are Roger Clemens and Jon Lester, and we know what happened to them.
If the Red Sox are going to contend this year they will need an ace, a pitcher who costs them more than a five-digit salary. They will either face this reality or have an average year and make the wild card only by good fortune.
Jon Lester will have a great year. If he brings the Cubs to a wild card finish, the Red Sox can weep for what they might have had. I know I will.