In an candid interview held before Boston’s BBWAA dinner, Red Sox starter Jon Lester made his future plans abundantly clear. “I want to be here(Boston) until they rip the jersey off my back”, Lester told the media scrum that gathered around him. Although Lester is still contracted to pitch for the Red Sox in 2014, his intentions to sign an extension with the Red Sox as soon as possible was a recurring theme throughout the interview. But perhaps more eyebrow raising than Lester’s desire to extend his tenure in Boston, and subsequently side-step the free agent waters, the 30 year old spoke about his willingness to take a pay cut. “I understand you’re going to take a discount to stay. Do I want to do that? Absolutely”. The 2015 offseason would represent Lester’s first shot at free agency, but the Red Sox southpaw compared his feelings for Boston to that of second baseman Dustin Pedroia. “It’s like Pedey. He left a lot of money on the table to stay here. I want to do that”. While Lester didn’t reveal a deadline for a deal, the Red Sox homegrown talent seemed fine with leaving the door open on the situation and letting contract talks play themselves out. For the Red Sox, this is great news. Not only is Lester’s willingness to take a home town discount beneficial to Boston’s future payroll, but it also speaks to the team culture that the Red Sox front office has completely turned around in a years time. With that being said, finding a benchmark for the Red Sox and Lester to begin negotiations is a bit tricky. For the past 6 seasons Lester has been a very reliable top tier arm for Boston and is young enough to command a nice payday. But given the Red Sox glut of young starting pitching, it will be interesting to see how much Boston is willing to invest in him One of the biggest things that Lester has going for himself right now is durability. The Red Sox have really never had to question whether Lester is going to take his turn through the rotation. Since 2008, the lefty has posted 5 seasons in which he’s amassed at least 31 starts and 205 innings. Over his entire 8 year career, Lester has over 1370 innings in 220 total games started, which ends up averaging out to approximately 7 innings per start. Both Lester’s career starts and innings pitched totals grade within the top 20 in baseball since 2006. As his workload would suggest, Lester’s bill of health is next to perfect. Since Lester courageously battled, and defeated, large cell lymphoma back in 2006 and 2007, he’s only taken one trip to the disabled list which was only a 15 day stint. Since Lester has spent all of that time on the field he’s evolved into a pretty darn good pitcher. On his career, Lester holds a 3.76 ERA and a WHIP of 1.03, while also striking out 8 batters per 9 innings and walking 3. But as we’ve come to know, baseball is a “what have you done for me lately” kind of game. In that regard, examining Lester’s last 3 seasons would serve as a stronger forecast of things to come. Despite being a bit skewed by a poor 2012 campaign, Lester was able to maintain fairly respectable numbers. In over 600 innings pitched Lester posted an average 3.87 FIP and an equally ordinary BABIP of .300. Over the 3 year span, Lester was able to keep his H/9, BB/9, and K/BB fairly consistent with his career norms. It seems as though 2012 can be treated as a mulligan when looking at Lester’s recent numbers. Especially since the left hander returned to his normal self in 2013. While his H/9 remained a bit elevated, and his K/9 didn’t quite return to its normal level, Lester posted his lowest BB/9 in 4 years. Lester was also able to lower his BABIP back to league average and raised his LOB% from 67% to 73%. Lester also threw a career high 213 innings, which was seventh most in the American League in 2013. The long and short of it: Lester has put 2012 behind him. Given his track record and his return to normalcy in an eventual championship year, extending the 30 year old won’t be cheap. Especially since fellow lefties like CC Sabathia, Cole Hamels, and, most recently, Clayton Kershaw have blown the roof off the market, all cashing in on contracts exceeding $100 million. While Lester himself might not have the credentials to obtain an $100 million extension, the pitchers market is flush with cash. Even Lester himself acknowledged that fact by saying that, while he’d be willing to take a home town discount, he doesn’t want to be the guy to “set the market back”. Reasonably, a safe bet for a potential Lester extension would be within the $80-$90 million range, over a 4 or 5 year pact. Which is cheap considering Lester will headline the 2015 free agent class and could provoke a lucrative bidding war between other teams. The Red Sox know Jon Lester, they know what to expect from him, and Lester has flourished under the bright lights of Boston. Knowing that, Ben Cherington should take full advantage of Lester’s desire to stay in Boston at a discounted price, and keep the left hander atop Boston’s rotation for the foreseeable future. Not only would Lester remain a fierce competitor, but he would also serve as a terrific mentor for the crop of young starting pitching that’s knocking on the major league door. Along with Lester’s performance, knowing what’s a fair price for himself and the future of the team that raised him, shows just what a wise investment he would be.
Quote credit: ESPN Boston