Tagged: Jon Lester

More for Lester

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.



Call for an Ace

“No … the Red Sox need a true No. 1 starter at the top of the rotation. Without one, I don’t like their chances in 2015.” So say 57% in yesterday’s ESPN poll.

Ben Cherrington sounds like he believes the pitching staff he’s assembled is the real deal. Maybe he has prophetic vision the rest of us lack, but a staff without a stopper is a staff that can plunge into depression at intervals of the long season. There is no one in the proposed rotation that can step in to stop a slump.

A year ago I was arguing Clay Bucholz was the stopper, even with Lester in the rotation. Now I feel less confident. No one knows what Bucholz will bring in the spring–Cy Young apparent or a half-vast command of his pitches.  No one can say he will live up to the promise of 2012, when, for a few months, he was the best pitcher in baseball.

It is not enough to hope for an ace to emerge from the pack, as Justin Masterson suggested yesterday. Masterson, himself, could assume that role, but so much depends on his health and getting his control back. Another wild card. The Red Sox have rolled the dice on their pitching staff before and come up empty.

We don’t want to rely on “maybe-his-sinker-will-sink” stuff. It’s clear the Red Sox are interested in the low-ball pitcher who throws strikes. We love them on their good days. On the days when the ball gets up in the strike zone, you are looking at 5-0 before you get to the third inning.

So we need a shutdown pitcher. Someone who dominates and sends the hitters back to the dugout shaking their heads. Jon Lester was like that many times last year, but that was yesterday and yesterday’s gone.  We need a Cole Hamels or Johnny Cueto who can lead the struggling sinker-ballers out of the wilderness.

Your work is not done, Mr. Cherrington. Get in the top pitcher sweepstakes. If you can do it without sacrificing Mookie Betts or Blake Swihart, that would be great, but make the deal or sign the free agent. Boston wants an ace.


Dear Ben Cherrington

So you’ve brought the hitting mercenaries in for the next battle. The hired guns cost $200 million. Now let’s bring back the field commander, the guy Boston loves and who loves Boston– Jon Lester. What would you pay to anchor a pitching staff?

If you let Lester go, you might as well put David Ortiz up for sale and auction the Green Monster. You might as well trade “Sweet Caroline” to the Yankees, who could really use some decent music. You might as well tear up the Fenway sod and spread a carpet in Ted Williams’ back yard.

This workhorse came up in the system, took his early licks as a pitcher, then some more licks with cancer, then a year of proving himself all over again, then a year when he anchored a World Champion pitching staff. That’s local history. That’s the last remnant of a pitching tradition following the likes of Martinez and Schilling. That’s Jon Legend.

Ask the master: Clayton Kershaw said he studied Lester and admired him. He oughta know! The Dodgers could peel off a wad of bills to put another platinum left-hander to their rotation. They’d love to have two or three stoppers. Are you going to let them buy a member of your family?

Don’t blow $100 million on a loose cannon like Hanley Ramirez and say you don’t have enough to sign a Top Gun like Jon Lester.  Don’t claim you’ll break the luxury tax ceiling to sign him, and then say he asked for too much. Don’t wait till some maniac with a checkbook throws stupid money at him.  Make the next move!

You know the pitching market is going to be calibrated by Lester. No one’s coming cheap after him. There are pretenders out there ready to claim their share of “Lester money.”   So don’t plan to bargain your way to a pitching staff.  Set the trend with a respectable hometown offer, one that makes the man proud to sign.

Let’s dispense with the coyness, the positioning, the jockeying and bring Jon Lester back to Boston. If he gets away. Mr. Cherrington, it’s your fault.


Shrill Bill

Building a Team; Conserving the Ideal

We’re all wondering if the Red Sox have again succumbed to the temptation to sign the biggest names possible and thrown team chemistry into the disposal.  Pablo Sandoval was a likely target for a team without a run-producing third baseman, but Hanley Ramirez has not distinguished himself as a clubhouse guy or a durable every-day player. Could his signing signal the abandonment of Jon Lester in free agent negotiations?

And Sandoval is known as a free-swinger. Bringing him in along with Yoenis Cespedis suggests a change in hitting philosophy. Both of them like to swing outside the strike zone, and neither has an impressive on-base percentage.  Does this signal the end of the patient hitting philosophy that has governed the Red Sox for a decade or more? With Sandoval, Cespedes and Mike Napoli in the line-up every day, there is going to be a steady breeze generated in Fenway Park.

So here’s a proposal that would preserve the approach that has won the Red Sox two World Series. Trade Mike Napoli and Yoenis Cespedes for some strong starting pitching. Keep the hustling and versatile Brock Holt and Shane Victorino to conserve the energy they bring to the line-up, wherever they play. Sign Jon Lester and Andrew Miller to preserve what has been great in Red Sox pitching. Count on one young pitcher to fill out the rotation and make sure you have four veterans to anchor it. Which of the many young talents can fill the fifth position is anybody’s guess.

It is heartening to see the Red Sox making bold moves, showing they want to be competitive immediately, but no one wants to see the follies of the past repeated. And certainly no one wants to be compared to the N.Y. Yankees’ revolving door, which has failed to form a successful team for half a decade. We want to see home-grown athletes like Xander Bogaerts and Jon Lester succeed in a Sox uniform. We want to believe that the team has a soul, not inter-changeable parts.

So keep building this team, Ben Cherrington (and John Henry and Larry Lucchino), but build on the foundation. Don’t trade it away.


It Has To Be Buchholz

The designation of Chris Tillman as Opening Day starter for the Baltimore Orioles shows the Red Sox what they’re up against. This guy has the Red Sox’ number. He’s good for seven shutout innings anytime he faces the Boston line-up.

The answer is Clay Buchholz. Buchholz will match zeroes with anyone, even the fortified Orioles in Camden Yards. His recent work in Spring Training shows that he is the best prepared pitcher in the rotation coming out of the gate. He has already built up to four innings and should be good for five shutout innings on Day One.

After the fifth inning, the Sox will need to rely on a stalwart bullpen to keep the Orioles in check until someone squeezes a run home. Prediction: Grady Sizemore will score the winning run.

Jon Lester dominated for four innings in his last start. The problem was he pitched five innings. He was nicked for a run in the first. Lester always has problems in the first two innings, and that is where the Orioles can hurt him on Opening Day. The one or two runs they can plate quickly could be the difference in a low-scoring game.

So Buchholz. We don’t know how many innings he’s good for in 2014, but let’s give him the first five or six.

Buchholz for Opening Day

With his arm getting stronger and his range of pitches broadening, Clay Buchholz is a candidate for starting on Opening Day.  No one in the Red Sox pitching rotation has a broader pitching selection, and no one competes for six innings like Buchholz.

The key question is how will the Red Sox match up against the number one starting pitchers in the American League East? Now that the Yankees have Masahiro Tanaka and the Rays have their usual intimidating staff led by David Price, and the Orioles lead off with Chris Tillman, the Red Sox can not count on too many runs when they face the number one. Jon Lester is good for the long haul, but he is not the shut-down pitcher the Sox need early in the season. Lester is a clutch pitcher who gets better as the season develops, but he is not at his best in April.

In April and May of 2013, Buchholz was the most dominant pitcher in baseball.  He mowed down hitters up and down the line-up with his combination of fastball, curve, and cut fastball. This year he has added a change-up. By Opening Day he will be the shut-down pitcher the Red Sox need against the best of the East and the equally dominating Central (Max Scherzer; Justin Verlander) and West (Darvish).

Indisputably Buchholz is fragile and needs a little pampering. Maybe he only pitches five or six innings in the early going. Maybe seven innings is the most he should pitch. But the Red Sox claim to have a strong bullpen, which can pick up whenever he reaches his pitch limit. That’s why they spent most of their money on relief pitchers like Mujica, Badenhof, and Cordero. Combined with Uhehara, Breslow, Tazawa, and Miller, they should be able to fill some of those innings.

With all due respect to Jon Lester, the Opening Day pitcher for the Red Sox should be Clay Buchholz. He can match zeroes with the best of them.

Play Ball!

For my money the stars of the 2013 Championship Season were Koji Uhehara, John Lackey, and Shane Victorino.  If all three of them played in the same game they probably shortened it by thirty minutes with their no-nonsense, step-up-and-play-ball attitude. I love to watch them play.

Then we have Junichi Tazawa, Felix Dubront and Jonny Gomes with their stalling, fussing, fidgeting rituals that slow the game to a sputtering crawl. Their shenanigans between pitches resembled golf more than baseball, as they tried to break their opponents’ rhythm, spiking my interest at the same time.

Leaving aside the conferences on the mound (often called from the dugout), there are two ways for players to slow down a baseball game: fouling off pitches till the pitcher gives in and taking breaks between pitches.  The first is an art that the Red Sox cultivate in their hitters, the second are stalling rituals adopted by both hitters and pitchers to summon their scattered resources.

The Red Sox are less interested in cultivating the deliberate approach to batting and pitching. Josh Beckett was given the bum’s rush out of town partially because he would not speed up his game on the mound. Look at the pitchers the Red Sox have acquired since then: Ryan Dempster, Jake Peavy, Craig Breslow, and Koji Uhehara. These veterans are masters of aggressive pitching and they look like they’re in charge even when they’re getting pelted (especially Dempster and Peavy).

Tazawa is the sole exception to this trend. He looks like he’s staving off an attack of gastritis as soon as he comes in. He adds drama and stomach acid to his performance by grimacing and walking around the mound until he finally decides to deliver–what will it be–ball one!  He managed well in the post-season with this ritual, so it looks like more of the same in 2014.

At the plate Gomes and Pedroia are the worst offenders, adjusting their wristbands with every pitch a la Nomar Garcia-Parra, and Gomes has an intractable problem getting his helmet to sit comfortably on his head. Ortiz likes to spit on his batting gloves, but he gets back in the box with business-like intent. Nava likes to back out and re-group, but he gets down to business with the same intensity as Ortiz.

Jon Lester was a portrait of anxiety and frustration early in the season, but come August as his control sharpened, he worked faster and faster. By the World Series the hitters were starting to back out on him, so methodical was his delivery.  When hitters uncharacteristically begin to stall at the plate you know your mojo is working.

Baseball is a slow game, so you might think the true masters are the slowest ones. But quite the contrary, the masters are the ones who make opponents try to slow them down, the John Lackeys, the Koji Uheharas, the Justin Verlanders.  When those guys are pitching for your side, it’s a pleasure to watch. At the same time, the Shane Victorinos and the Mike Napolis, who step up and glare down a pitcher, give you that feeling that no nonsense is happening here.  Their posture says, “Let’s get on with it!”  We are here to play ball!