Sox expect to have contract talks with Lester soon

Sox expect to have contract talks with Lester soon
December 10, 2013, 7:15 pm
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(AP Photo)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Having extended Dustin Pedroia last spring on a contract that will allow the second baseman to likely finish his career in Boston, the Red Sox can next turn their attention to doing the same thing for pitcher Jon Lester.
      
Lester is eligible for free agency after the 2014 season and Tuesday, general manager Ben Cherington indicated that the Sox might kick-start some contract talks with the lefthander sometime after the start of next year.
      
"He's a key guy, obviously," said Cherington. "He's been a horse for us for a long time and he didn't show any signs of slowing down this October. Obviously, he's a guy we'd like to keep. The timing of those conversations, usually it's a later in the winter, spring training thing, or after the contract.
      
"I think there's an understanding with players that, early in the off-season, that there's work to be done to try to get the team set up as best we can and there's time for those conversations a little bit later. We'll see. I think there will certainly be a willingness to have a conversation. We'll see where it goes, but we haven't done that yet."
      
After suffering through his worst season in the big leagues in 2012, Lester bounced back nicely in 2013, winning 15 games, posting a 3.75 ERA and pitching a career-high 213 1/3 innings.
      
In the post-season, however, Lester really sparkled, going 4-1 with a 1.56 ERA in five starts. In the World Series, he was even better, winning Game 1 and Game 5 while allowing just one run over 15 1/3 innings.
      
Had it not been for David Ortiz, Lester could well have been the World Series MVP.
      
Lester will turn 30 in January and it would seem that any new deal would need to be in the five- or six-year neighborhood, with an average annual value of something close to -- if not well in excess of -- $20 million.
      
A likely comparable for Lester would seem to be the deal signed between Cole Hamels and the Philadelphia Phillies. In July of 2012, Hamels agreed to a six-year, $144 million, taking him through the 2018 season.
      
Hamels, who turns 30 later this month, is 99-74 lifetime with a 3.38 ERA while Lester is 100-56 with a 3.76 ERA.
      
Both Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander recently signed contract extensions with an AAV of $25 million or more, but Hernandez has won multiple Cy Young Awards while Verlander has won a Cy Young and an MVP.
      
As consistent as Lester has been, he's yet to achieve those kind of milestones.
      
This winter, pitching has continued to be a prized asset. Tim Hudson, who suffered a gruesome ankle injury last summer, signed a two-year, $23 million contract.
      
Lester was scouted, signed and developed by the Red Sox out of high school and the Red Sox are the only organization he's known. Lester has said recently that he would like to stay with the Red Sox.
      
He could find more on the open market, but if Lester is intent on exploring a deal to stay in Boston, that's the first step.
      
"I think it's usually driven by that particular guy," said Cherington. "There's a relationship. We'll see if there's mutual interest. We're certainly open to having a conversation at some point. We're always looking a year or two years or three years down the road and we think that we have a number of young pitchers in our organization that could be part of our rotation in the next 12-24 months. We factor that in.
      
"No one factor drives it -- all of them do. The most important thing is there's a relationship. We've known Jon for a long time, since he signed, and I think that allows us to have a conversation. He'll see what makes sense for him and we'll see what makes sense for us. We're just not there yet."