Remember how nice things were back in spring training?
The Red Sox were coming off their third World Series in 10 years and riding high with the promise of a new season and a farm system full of top prospects.
But storm clouds rolled in when, in an effort to re-sign Jon Lester in the final year of his contract, Red Sox ownership made a low-ball offer.
Four years and $70 million for their left-handed ace. It was a low-ball offer intended to get negotiations started, an offer Larry Lucchino now admits was a mistake.
“We’re certainly well aware that there would have to be significant improvement in that [offer], but we expected a more concentrated and ongoing period of negotiations, which hasn’t yet happened,” Lucchino told Dan Shaughnessy.
Now, with Lester in the middle of a dominant season, the Red Sox will likely have to pay top dollar to retain their ace, if they can bring him back at all.
“We want Jon Lester to be a member of the Boston Red Sox in 2015," says Lucchino. "If we can sign him now, we’ll sign him now. If we can sign him before free agency after the season, we’ll sign him then. If it goes to free agency, we’re going to make an effort to sign him.”
For his part, Lester says there's no hard feelings.
“I don’t hold grudges against people," says Lester. "That doesn’t motivate me to pitch better. I’m a competitor and I want to pitch well regardless if I’m a free agent to be or if i’ve got years on my contract left. That doesn’t motivate me. What motivates me is winning baseball games and winning World Series.”
It seems that both Lester and the Red Sox still want to get a deal done, but it's easy to see that agreeing to an extension will now be harder - and more expensive for the Red Sox - than it had to be.
Lester increases his free agent value with each strong outing, and with just about every major league team interested in a left-handed ace, the Red Sox may come to regret their spring training gambit.