It was inevitable once the Red Sox said Tuesday that Jon Lester would be scratched from his scheduled start. It still was stunning when the news came out Thursday morning that Lester had been traded to Oakland along with Jonny Gomes for Yoenis Cespedes but it’s also the price for not properly defending a World Series championship by playing well.
It’s also the price of having a free agent pitcher and wanting to get a proven major league commodity. This year the Red Sox have had among the worst hitting outfields in the game with a .244 average spread out among Jackie Bradley Jr. Daniel Nava, Shane Victorino, Gomes and others. So as nice as it would be to obtain a big-time stud prospect, the bottom line is that that Red Sox needed some offense in any deal for Lester.
That’s what they got in Cespedes, a right-handed hitting power machine, whose 17 home runs are five more than anyone else on the Red Sox not named David Ortiz. And even better is that they have him under team control through next season so essentially they’re getting a year and a half for a proven hitting commodity.
The only thing that can make this deal better for GM Ben Cherrington is if Lester actually re-signs. Lester has said how much he enjoys Boston and wants to be there but those are comments made before the free agent frenzy that he surely will encounter in the offseason.
It will take more than a four-year, $70 million deal to retain Lester since that’s what he rejected earlier this season but even if Lester goes elsewhere, the Red Sox will use that money elsewhere.
Besides Lester, the notable class of free agent pitchers includes: Jason Hammel, Ervin Santana, James Shields, Justin Masterson, Jorge De La Rosa and Max Scherzer. Scherzer turned down a $144 million extension while Shields and Masterson could be good fits for the Red Sox since Shields spent many years in the AL East with Tampa Bay and Masterson came up with the Red Sox.
The reality is that being over 30 might deter the Red Sox from offering a really long-term contract. They have data that speaks against it and this year that evidence will include what has happened to CC Sabathia, who at 34 has seen his velocity decrease and his right knee cost him this season.
The Red Sox will have to decide at what cost do they bring back Lester. Among the things that will factor in besides money is that Lester has been a money pitcher in the postseason, a steady winner and someone who has handled the good and bad of Boston.
If the Red Sox overpay for Lester, it won’t be the worst thing. He would be worth it for all he’s done but if he doesn’t return, the Red Sox will find the money for someone else and integrate more of the prospects.
The rebuild for the Red Sox will be about integrating more prospects. They’re better equipped for that than after the 93-loss disaster in 2012 so they won’t need to sign seven free agents, which all worked out last year.
Among their pitching possibilities among the prospects, the Red Sox have: Brandon Workman, Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster, Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Barnes, Brian Johnson, and Henry Owens. If all of those aren’t involved in future rotations, they also could be trade chips.
Losing Lester is a tough pill to swallow for Red Sox fans. That’s just the price of business and a losing season. Now the key is successfully moving on from it with or without Lester in 2015.