Boston Red Sox Playing Damage Control In Jon Lester Situation

By Pat O'Rourke
jon lester boston red sox
Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Red Sox have agreed to table talks with Jon Lester for the remainder of the 2014 season, CEO Larry Lucchino confirmed Thursday morning.

Lester didn’t want to negotiate in season just like Nomar didn’t want to play in a crucial July game against the New York Yankees back in 2004 and Terry Francona didn’t want to manage in Boston in 2011 on the heels of one of the worst September collapses in baseball history.

We’ve heard it before.

It’s simply damage control by the Red Sox front office in coming to grips with the fact they’ve screwed this whole thing up. That a firestorm will be coming in December when Lester follows in the footsteps of Jacoby Ellsbury and signs a mega-deal in New York. That the firestorm will intensify when the Red Sox struggle in 2015 without an ace to give the ball to every fifth day.

Sox brass bought themselves some well-earned leverage following the 2013 season in which every transaction they made turned to gold, from signing Shane Victorino, Koji Uehara, Jonny Gomes, Stephen Drew, etc.  to trading for Jake Peavy and Mike Carp. It resulted in a World Series title.

The Sox would’ve added to that reputation of having the Midas touch by wrapping the Lester deal in the offseason and giving him a five-year deal around $20 million annually with vesting options thrown in there. It would’ve saved them money and would’ve saved them from having to save face.

They chose to play hardball, giving Lester a low-ball four-year, $70 million offer. Just as they deserved the praise following the transactions that led to the amazing ride that was the 2013 season, they are now deserving of this mess and any criticism that comes with it.

Part of it’s arrogance, with Lucchino and Ben Cherington sitting in their ivory tower and talking about how it’s foolish to sign pitchers in their 30s to long-term deals as if a magic switch goes off when a pitcher turns 20-10, never able to get another batter out.

And by that logic, Lester — who is 199 days removed from reaching the biological milestone/pitcher’s third rail according to the Book of Larry — should’ve turned into John Wasdin months ago.

Then there’s the spook factor, giving Josh Beckett a four-year, $68 million contract extension in 2010 which is the equivalent of giving Clay Buchholz a four-year deal at in the neighborhood of $90-100 million in 2014. It’s also like giving Carl Crawford seven years and $142 million despite being nothing close to being a player worth $20 million per year and legs that had logged a good deal of miles on the Tropicana Field turf. Or maybe you prefer investing $103 million in Daisuke Matsuzaka ($51 million posting fee, $52 million contract) despite never throwing a pitch in the major leagues — which has deterred them from the international market, pumping the brakes on the Sox going harder after Jose Abreu or Yoenis Cespedes in recent years, but I digress.

The Red Sox can point anywhere they want. They can get on their high horse and preach about how pitchers in their 30s don’t pan out. They can point to a guy who could never put two consecutive good seasons together or a guy who couldn’t play in Boston.

But who replaces Lester? Who starts opening day? Who takes his innings? How do they compete without a top-flight starter taking the ball every fifth day in a game that is now predicated on pitching? Or better yet, how long will it be until they compete again?

If the Yankees shy away from CC Sabathia in 2009, their World Series drought would be going on its 14th year. If the Philadelphia Phillies shy away from Cliff Lee, they don’t win 100 games in 2011 and they’re a far cry from being a middle-of-the-road team in 2012-13. Zack Greinke would be an ace if he weren’t in the same starting rotation as Clayton Kershaw.

If the Red Sox don’t want to give Lester the money he’s due because he’s a ‘pitcher in his 30s’ that’s fine. It’s their money; it’s their product.

But just remember one thing — Roger Clemens was supposedly in the twilight of his career in when the Sox let him walk following the 1996 season.

And we all know how that panned out.

Pat O’Rourke is a Red Sox writer for You can follow him on Twitter or join his network on Google.

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