Attention, Mr. Ben Cherington: Jon Lester is waiting for you.
We found out a few days ago that Boston Red Sox starter Jon Lester has announced that he would take less money than he feels he could get on the open market to stay in Boston. Cherington did well in exercising the team option of $13 million that he had on Lester for 2014, but one thing remains unfinished: an extension. It is not only unfinished; it is un-started.
Lester’s contract expires after this season, and — as MLB.com’s Ian Browne put it — “Lester will have no problem putting all his cards on the table and telling the Red Sox exactly what he wants” when it comes time to negotiate a possible extension or even a new contract.
In light of the recent free agent contracts that pitchers Clayton Kershaw ($215 million) and Masahiro Tanaka ($155 million) signed this year and Justin Verlander ($202 million) and Felix Hernandez ($175 million) got last year, no one could blame Lester for testing the market next offseason. Near age 31 by then, he could get rich, but he would likely sign a shorter-term deal than these other pitchers did.
Cherington has a chance to keep his ace in Boston for the long term, and we should classify this situation as a “no-brainer.” Lester can flat out pitch — and pitch exceptionally well in the clutch. We saw that in the postseason (4-1, 1.56 ERA) and especially the World Series (2-0, 0.59). In addition, with the older Red Sox starters leaving before too long, the young prospects such as Henry Owens (who should debut this year) will need Lester to mentor them. Lester knows Boston and has endured the rough years such as 2012 and personal battles such as recovering from cancer. He can mentor the prospects in many regards.
Even Lester understands that he will probably not get the kind of contract that the aforementioned pitchers have received, and he is fine with that. He will get paid and paid well, though. He is even willing to take the “home-team discount” to stay in Boston. Said Lester,
“I understand that to stay here you’re not going to get a free-agent deal. You’re not going to do it. You can’t. It’s not possible. You’re bidding against one team. I understand that you’re going to take a discount to stay. Do I want to do that? Absolutely. But just like they want it to be fair for them, I want it to be fair for me and my family. If we can get to something, hopefully, in Spring Training, that’s awesome. I want to stay here.”
Cherington, though, admits that the conversations have not yet begun.
Lester has a career record of 100-56, 3.76 ERA, 1.304 WHIP, and 3.5 average WAR in eight years in Boston. He also surpasses 200 innings more often than not. While is not the first name to jump into most baseball fans’ minds when asked to name the best pitcher in the league, he is one of the best. Ben Cherington has the perfect opportunity to secure his ace for a number of years. Lester is waiting, Mr. Cherington. Why are you?by