McAdam: Lester not middle-of-the-road free agent

McAdam: Lester not middle-of-the-road free agent
April 12, 2014, 4:00 pm
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NEW YORK -- Two winters ago, the Red Sox used a unique strategy to rebuild from the ashes of the Bobby Valentina Era, choosing to overpay free agents on an average annual basis while avoiding long-term deals.

The Sox signed a seven free agents, and only one -- Shane Victorino -- got more than a two-year guaranteed commitment.

It was the perfect plan at the time, since it ensured that the Sox wouldn't repeat the mistakes they made with Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, the likes of which had gotten the Sox into trouble in the first place.

But if the Sox think they can duplicate that approach with Jon Lester, they're sadly mistaken.

It's one thing for the club to limit the length of deals to mid-level free agents such as Victorino or Mike Napoli or Jonny Gomes. It's another thing altogether when the free agent (to-be) in question is lefthanded, durable and about to be much in demand.

CSNNE.com has confirmed -- FoxSports.com was the first to report -- that had the Sox offered Lester a deal in the neighborhood of four-years near $70 million in March, before both the team and the pitcher announced that the two sides had "hit the pause button'' on the weekend before the season began.

The Sox appear to have signaled that they were willing to go higher, but the damage may have already been done.

Lester may not be in the class of Clayton Kershaw or Justin Verlander, but neither is he some middle-of-the-road free agent. He consistently logs 200 innings, frequently earns 15 or more wins per season and has a track record of post-season success, as he demonstrated last October.

For a pitcher of Lester's accomplishment, the AAV (average annual value) starts at $20 million. Yes, the Red Sox saw fit to offer a deal which featured a $17.5 million.

Then there's the length of the deal. While Max Scherzer gets offered a seven-year deal and Zack Greinke accepts a six-year contract and Cole Hamels signs a six-year deal and Adam Wainwright gets five.

The last front-line starter to sign an extension for less than a $20 AAV was Homer Bailey, who re-upped with Cincinnati for six years and $105 million. Bailey isn't nearly the pitcher than Lester is and he got two more years than Lester was offered. In a much, much smaller market,
it should be added.

A five-year deal with an option for a sixth might have been an acceptable opening offer. But four?

The market for premium starting pitching is thriving, yet the Red Sox acted in a manner which suggest the market is collapsing.

Perhaps the Red Sox misinterpreted Lester's off-season remarks in which he revealed a willingness to take the proverbial hometown discount to remain with the Sox. Lester clearly indicated a desire to finish his career with the Red Sox, the only organization he's ever known.

Perhaps the Sox tried to use Lester's candor against him. And what sort of that message does that send to the rest of the players in the organization?

Either that, or they don't really want to re-sign him -- or at least not anywhere near the going rate.