Let's stop fooling ourselves-- the Boston Red Sox don't want Jon Lester back. It's just pure speculation on my part, but one has to read the tea leaves.
Jon Lester wants to stay here. How much clearer do you want him to state it? He hates change. I can relate. I am the same way. The Red Sox are all he's known. He has been with Boston since the day he broke into the majors in 2006. By now you should be tired of hearing how Lester said prior to the season that he would be willing to give Boston a hometown discount. The caveat would be just don't insult the man. Insult the man is what the Red Sox did when they offered him four years and $70 million. Did Boston really think he'd consider signing for that for more than a millisecond?
The Red Sox knew Lester wouldn't agree to that contract offer. My position is that they didn't want him to agree to stay here. My question is who is "they"? I find it hard to believe it is GM Ben Cherington's decision. He is too smart. He understands Lester's value to the team. I have to believe this is coming from up higher. Remember owner John Henry's quote from a few years ago-- Larry Lucchino "runs the Red Sox." Henry, himself, is on record as saying he doesn't want to go committing a lot of years and dollars to players in their 30's when history shows players' skills drop off quickly during this time frame.
I always believed Theo Epstein was scapegoated for the demise of the Red Sox at the end of his tenure. I still wonder if he was ordered to make the Red Sox more "sexy" to their fans. Go out and get some "big name" players-- no matter the cost. Theo always came across to me as someone who treasured his farm system and liked to grow from within. It seemed out of character for him to go out and get John Lackey, Adrian Gonzalez, and Carl Crawford.
Of course, you'll never hear Lucchino or Henry admit to their roles in any of those acquisitions. In fact, Henry insisted in an interview that he was the only one who objected to the Carl Crawford signing. As owner, you would think he'd have the power to overrule signing a player to $142 million of his own money. That's just my opinion. Either that or Henry is a liar.
The fact the Red Sox have gotten burned in recent "big money" contract dealings has to give them pause going forward. The result in recent years has been overpaying for shorter contracts. They've also taken chances on players who have been more role players in their careers. Last year the strategy worked exceptionally well with the signings of Jonny Gomes, Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, and Koji Uehara.
This year it has been an abject failure. They chose not to be serious about re-signing Jacoby Ellsbury. I had no problem with that. The trouble was handing the reins to a rookie center fielder. Their backup plan was to be cheap and sign a reclamation project in Grady Sizemore. Maybe lightning could strike twice-- and for a time during spring training it appeared it might. But Sizemore flopped in Boston, and JBJ came out of the gate struggling. The Red Sox also had no insurance for when Shane Victorino went down to injury.
The Red Sox also failed to spend money on the left side of their infield. They chose not to re-sign Stephen Drew. They decided to go with the young combo of Xander Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks. Again, they chose not to spend any money on a player to come in and compete for a job or to provide insurance.
This is the way business is being run now. Theo Epstein would be proud. Somebody in the front office must have confidence that the Red Sox deep depth of starting pitching in the farm system will provide the next (cheaper version of) Jon Lester. Henry Owens is the name you keep hearing, but he is no sure thing to be Jon Lester. If he does, he won't be an ace until at least three years from now at the earliest. Lester debuted in 2006, but it wasn't until 2008 (16-6, 3.21 ERA) that he became the Lester we are accustomed to.
Pitchers like Lester don't grow on trees, though. He has proven he can pitch in Boston. That is no small feat. He has proven he can pitch in the postseason (3-0, 0.43 ERA in three World Series starts). You can't teach that kind of experience or intestinal fortitude.
Lester says he is open to signing with the Red Sox even if he gets traded. How much more proof do you need that he wants to stay here? Still the Red Sox are mum.
John Farrell has come out and said that Brandon Workman is ready in case Lester needs to be scratched from tomorrow night's start at Fenway-- which could have been his last as a member of the Red Sox. "If Jon is traded by this time tomorrow, Brandon Workman will start," Farrell said Tuesday. Could you imagine Belichick saying something like that? Seems a bit disrespectful to me.
Red Sox fans who previously held their hat on the "hometown discount" comment by Lester are now clinging to the "I would still be willing to re-sign with Boston if traded" comment. Forget it. It doesn't matter if the Red Sox don't want him.
To me, this reeks of Jarrod Saltalamacchia all over again. Despite Salty having a good year with the bat, the Red Sox showed no love to the fan-favorite when his contract expired. Just like Lester, Salty wanted to stay in Boston but was disappointed when the Red Sox offer was the worst of any he received in free agency.
It is fair to say that 4-years/$70 million will be the worst offer Jon Lester will see.