Jon Lester shouldn't be part of Red Sox' selloff

Jon Lester shouldn't be part of Red Sox' selloff
July 10, 2014, 9:30 am
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BOSTON -- The first domino -- in the person of A.J. Pierzynski -- fell Wednesday, with the Red Sox designating the veteran catcher for assignment and moving forward with Christian Vazquez behind the plate.

Starter Jake Peavy will probably be next, shipped to some National League playoff contender (or pretender) for a marginal prospect or two.

In time, there could be a dismantling of the bullpen and a giant "No Reasonable Offer Turned Down'' sign posted, with the likes of Burke Badenhop auctioned off and maybe, just maybe, Koji Uehara, too.

Fine. Sell off those who aren't under contract past this season and maximize their value in a seller's market. That only makes sense.

But the Red Sox should completely dismiss, out of hand, any idea of trading Jon Lester. That would be one trade too many.

Lester, of course, is unsigned past this season and understandably rejected the Red Sox' lowball offer of four years, $70 million this spring. Despite rumblings of renewed back-channel talks two weeks ago in New York, there's been little or no progress toward a new deal, even as reports of the Red Sox crafting a new offer surface.

At this point of the season, Lester probably isn't terribly interested in hearing the Red Sox' new and improved offer. He's less than four months from free agency and probably wants to see what he could be offered from any number of interested teams.

So why, then, shouldn't the Red Sox trade him now and get what they can for him?

Because he's too valuable. And because they can afford to re-sign him, even after Lester hears offers from elsewhere.

It's going to cost them more -- a lot more -- this fall than it would have last spring. But they have only themselves to blame for that.

There would be only two reasons for the Sox to trade Lester by the July 31 deadline: If he didn't want to stay, or they couldn't afford to keep him. We know that neither of these points is true.

Lester is on record as saying he hopes to finish his career in Boston and that he considers it his home. Moreover, Lester said publicly -- much to the dismay of his agents -- that he would be willing to take less to remain with the Red Sox.

As for the Red Sox' ability to pay him, that too, seems a given. As it stands, the Sox are committed to less than $75 million to players next year: Mike Napoli and David Ortiz are due $16 million each. Shane Victorino will make $13 million, with Dustin Pedroia paid $12.6 million and Clay Buchholz $12.25 million. Edward Mujica is on the books for $4.75 million.

That's $74.6 million in committments. The rest of the roster will include five arbitration-eligibles -- Junichi Tazawa, Daniel Nava, Felix Doubront, Mike Carp and Jonathan Herrera -- none of whom will take huge leaps forward on the salary scale.

Another half-dozen players -- Jackie Bradley Jr, Xander Bogaerts, Christian Vazquez, and, in a contractual quirk, John Lackey -- will make the minimum salary or slightly more.

So, yes, the Red Sox can afford to re-sign Jon Lester. Easily.

Paying Jon Lester what he's worth on the open market won't represent an overpay, either. Dependable, healthy, successful pitchers are generally worth the investment.

The same couldn't be said of, say, Jacoby Ellsbury last fall, which is why only a handful of fans decried the Sox letting him go to the Yankees. Ellsbury has been injury-prone and, given his skill set, almost certain to depreciate in value as he ages. Matching New York's $153 million deal would have been feasible from a financial standpoint, but a foolish allocation of resources.

Lester is different. He's among the ten best starters in the game and he's left-handed and he's a proven postseason performer.

He's made 30 or more starts in each of the last six seasons. Barring injury, he'll increase that streak to seven this year.

That doesn't guarantee that, at some point in the next five or six seasons, Lester won't break down. There are no guarantees and every baseball contract involves some risk.

But given their resources, the Red Sox can't afford not  to re-sign Lester. Lackey will be 36 next year and in the final year of his deal. Beyond that, Buchholz, hardly the measure of consistency or durability, would be the team's only other experienced starter.

It's nice to have the stockpile of talented young arms the Sox have assembled. But for now, Brandon Workman, Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster, Henry Owens, Anthony Ranaudo and Matt Barnes are largely unproven.

Contending teams need established pitchers and in Lester, the Sox have a gem they shouldn't relinquish.

Sure, they could deal him later this month and then try to re-sign him. But how would Lester react to being traded in the middle of the season, forced to re-locate his family and adjust to a new team and new surroundings? How eager would he be to return?

The Red Sox have already made re-signing Lester more difficult than it should be. But they can pay their way out of their own mess.

Trading Lester would only compound their miscalculation and lengthen their climb back to pennant contender status.