Funny how a World Series ring changes everyone's plans.
Let's face facts: that World Series title last season was a fluke. The only excitement surrounding the Red Sox to start last season was that Bobby Valentine was no longer the manager of the team. No one was celebrating the signings of Jonny Gomes, Ryan Dempster, Shane Victorino, or Mike Napoli. The Opening Day 25-man roster had the likes of Alfredo Aceves, Clayton Mortensen, Mike Carp, Pedro Ciriaco, and Jackie Bradley Jr., with David Ortiz among a group of players starting the season on the disabled list. They were picked to finish last in the AL East (with the Blue Jays picked to win the World Series!). Until the last out was made, no one realistically thought that this roster would win a championship.
That roster, and that team, was supposed to be a "bridge" to a successful future for the Red Sox. GM Ben Cherington was trying to rebuild his roster while keeping some high-profile players on the squad, hoping to field a competitive team while giving some of his young prospects a chance to play throughout the season. Winning a World Series couldn't have been in his wildest dreams when he assembled the final roster to start the season.
After the debacle in 2012, where high-priced acquisitions Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford were a disaster in Boston, the Red Sox decided that they would stay away from lengthy, expensive contracts in free agency. They didn't sign anyone to a long-term deal in the offseason prior to the 2013 season, and they didn't do it again this past offseason. They let Jacoby Ellsbury walk when it was obvious that he was looking for a longer and more expensive contract. They calculated what they thought he was worth, and when he looked for more they let him go. The Sox brought basically the same roster back to start this season, with the exception of Ellsbury not patrolling center field.
Funny how a World Series ring changes everyone's expectations.
Somehow, with the same roster minus an All-Star outfielder, this team was expected to compete for another trophy when last year's team was picked dead last. Somehow, we are surprised and angered when this team is in last place. And somehow, we have totally forgotten why we have a roster full of young players and guys that are mostly pretty affordable. Did they overpay for a couple players on the squad? Yes, but those are short-term deals.
By signing Jon Lester to the deal that he will be requesting - probably in the vicinity of the 6-year, $144 million deal that Max Scherzer rejected this offseason - the Red Sox are going back on the long-term plans that were started in August 2012. It would be one thing if the Sox didn't have a ton of pitching prospects to fill Lester's spot in the rotation - like they had in Bradley Jr. to fill the center field void left by Ellsbury - but they have many candidates that could be promoted such as Allen Webster, Brandon Workman, Anthony Ranaudo, or even Henry Owens. The Sox were willing to start negotiations this spring, with their initial offer widely criticized for being an insulting, low-ball offer. Negotiations start with lower offers, but the Sox have made it clear in the past two offseasons that four or five years is the longest they are willing to commit to any player. They were willing to go five years with Ellsbury, who ended up getting a large 7-year deal with the Yankees, so they most likely would have gone up to five years with Lester if negotiations had gotten that far. After another stellar, All-Star level season from Lester, five years probably isn't going to get a deal done.
That is why Jon Lester should be moved now.
He has made it very clear that he is not talking about a contract during the season. He said that in April, June, and during the All-Star break. With the team holding on to slim playoff hopes until last week, it was acceptable for them to hold on to their ace and see if they could make a run to one of the two Wildcard spots. After yet another bad week, it now seems obvious that the Sox will be watching baseball in October instead of playing it, so now is the time to deal a player that will probably walk away for only a compensatory draft pick.
A World Series ring may change fans' perceptions and expectations, but it shouldn't change long-term plans.