Pay This Man

The Boston Red Sox have won the World Series three times in my lifetime, and that’s three times more than they won it in my grandfather’s lifetime. I am grateful for being able to see the great local baseball I have seen, and I will do my best not to take it for granted. The current Red Sox owners deserve a lot of credit for accomplishing what they’ve accomplished, between renovating and revitalizing Fenway Park as well is turning the club’s fortunes around, winning more titles than any other Major League team in the 21st century.

Each championship team was distinct. We had the Idiots of 2004, who were just dumb enough to end an 86 year drought that dated back to Babe Ruth’s pitching career and the Woodrow Wilson administration. We had the 2007 club that dominated the American League all season, and could so it all. And then we had the Band of Bearded Brothers in 2013, who took baseball by storm righting the wrongs of the recent years. Turnover is natural and healthy in baseball. By 2011 and 2012, there were too many satisfied and overpaid guys on the roster, and changes needed to be made. While I’m okay with parting ways with members of the 2013 team (like the Red Sox did yesterday, sending Jake Peavy to the San Francisco Giants), there is one guy they need going forward, that the Sox are in danger of losing because of their own hardball tactics. If Jon Lester gets traded this week or leaves in free agency, Red Sox fans will have every right to be angry with the team and have every right to turn on the ownership.

David Ortiz is the only player take part in all three World Series titles in Boston in the past decade, but the list of players to play on two of them is not that much longer: Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling, Kevin Youkilis, Mike Timlin, Jason Varitek, and Tim Wakefield were part of the ’04 and ’07 squads while Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Clay Buchholz (although Buchholz did not play at all in the 2007 playoffs), and Jon Lester were part of the ’07 and ’13 championship teams. With Big Papi getting up there in age, and Pedroia under contract for the years to come, Lester should be the priority for the Red Sox, but they insulted him with an offer well below his market value during spring training. Lester has had a great season, and was one of only two Red Sox players selected for the 2014 All-Star Game in Minnesota last week (along with 39 year old closer Koji Uehara). He has been a model of professionalism and consistency, and has handled pitching in Boston, one of the toughest markets in North American professional sports, as well as just about anyone. The Red Sox have taken a step back, and the magic of 2013 seems like a distant memory, but one thing Red Sox fans have been able to take solace in has been how well the pitchers have pitched. Lester has been the ace and the leader in every sense of the word. Without him, the one certainty the Red Sox have anymore would be uncertain again. That does not bode well for the future.

The Red Sox have a lot of young pitching prospects in the system. The ones we have seen the most of so far have been Brandon Workman and Rubby De La Rosa, with Allen Webster (who, along with De La Rosa, was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the franchise-altering Josh Beckett/Adrian Gonzalez/Carl Crawford/Nick Punto trade of 2012) and Henry Owens in the big league club’s future plans. The thing about prospects is that they have plenty of upside on paper, but potential doesn’t always pan out. Remember Lars Anderson? Drafted by the Red Sox in 2006, we heard for years from the team and the writers who cover the farm system that he would be the power hitting first baseman of the future, but at 26, his rookie status is still intact and he’s playing in the Chicago Cubs’ farm system because it never happened. He has played in a total of 30 Major League games, has not reached the Majors since 2012, and has never hit a big league home run. Proven talent is always more of a certainty than unproven talent, and Lester is only 30, so he should have more than a few good years in his left arm. The young pitching talent could be good in the future, but to compete in the meantime, the Red Sox need Jon Lester, and he also doubles as the perfect role model for the young pitchers.

In a lot of ways, Lester has been underrated and taken for granted by Red Sox fans. Part of it is his consistency, but another aspect the near death experience he had earlier in his career that he recovered from so quickly. After a strong start to his rookie season in 2006, Lester was diagnosed with cancer. He fought it, and he beat it, and a year later he was pitching for the winning team in the World Series. It reminds me a lot of what Paul Pierce went through early in his career. In September of 2000, just two years into what has become a Hall of Fame career, Pierce was stabbed 11 times at a club in Boston, and needed surgery to repair his lung. In spite of that, Pierce played all 82 games for the Celtics that season, and with the exception of the 2006-07 season when the C’s were holding him out to try and improve their chances of drafting Kevin Durant, was an incredibly durable and consistent player during his 15 year tenure in Boston. Since his battle with cancer, Lester has been so good, people have largely forgotten what he went through, and the 2007 World Series was just the start.

In 2008 and 2009, Lester established himself as Boston’s best starting pitcher. While Josh Beckett held the honor of being the Opening Day starter both seasons, Lester was the guy Terry Francona wanted on the mound for the first game of the playoffs, a decision John Farrell also made when the Sox returned to the postseason in 2013. Lester has demonstrated a great ability to go blow for blow with everyone else’s ace pitchers whether it was rival turned teammate John Lackey, or “Big Game” James Shields, or David Price, or Max Scherzer, or Adam Wainwright. In a year when pitching has been the only thing to write home about for the Red Sox, Lester has been the best. If the Red Sox don’t pay a Jon Lester what he’s worth, there is no reason to believe they would do that for someone who has never pitched in Boston. They won’t replace Lester with Price or Scherzer.

Jon Lester has said that he wants to pitch for the Red Sox, but there are plenty of teams who are willing to spend money that would love to have him. The New York Yankees come to mind. He’s pitched well against them his whole career, and knows what it’s like to compete in the American League East. The Detroit Tigers could also be in play, especially if Max Scherzer leaves in free agency. Lester’s hometown Seattle Mariners, who are as close to being a contender as they have been in a decade with the offseason addition of Robinson Cano, might also make a push to acquire the Lester, and create a deadly one two punch at the top of their starting rotation with Felix Hernandez. If anything, it’s worth it to the Red Sox to overpay Lester so he isn’t pitching against him in pinstripes for the second half of his career. I don’t care how much it costs and I don’t care if they sign Lester for longer than they should, but the Red Sox cannot win in the next two or three years without him. The title of this post says it all. Pay this man. He’s earned it.


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