Jon Lester has led quite the life especially when you include his, at times, brilliant baseball career. The highlights include dominating high school baseball in Washington State, culminating in being named the Gatorade State Player of the Year in 2000. He was then drafted in the 2nd round of the MLB entry draft by the Boston Red Sox and signed a contract that included a signing bonus of $1 million dollars. He was named Red Sox minor league pitcher of the year in 2005 and made his MLB debut in the 1st half of 2006. Late in the 2006 season Lester was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and missed the final month of the season. He was treated successfully and returned the Red Sox rotation in July 2007, less than a year after his diagnosis. In the clinching game 4 of the 2007 World Series Lester started, pitched 5 and 2/3rds innings and got the win. Back to full strength in 2008 Lester won 16 games, threw a no hitter and on the heels of such a successful season was awarded with a new 5 year, 30 million dollar contract. Over the first 4 years of that contact Lester has been 58-39, with a 3.74 ERA, has pitched over 800 innings and has consistently been one of the most durable starting pitchers in the MLB. Now I’m going to tell you why the Red Sox need to trade him.
Last year the Red Sox freed themselves from 3 albatross contracts. That has allowed them some financial freedom, but the reason that those 3 contracts were albatrosses was because of the age of the players relative to the length of their deals. They were all signed for numerous years at the same age Lester is currently and each proved that they were not the same player in their 30s that they had been in their 20s. Maybe Lester will be great in his 30s, but the odds are against them and they should trade him because I don’t know that signing him to a contract extension or even picking up his 2014 option is a smart baseball decision.
The 2013 Red Sox are not going to be much better than the 2012 Red Sox. They will be managed better certainly, there will be better performances almost definitely, but the team just does not match up to the likes of their competition in the AL East. They have some pieces set at the Major League level and in the minors that when combined can get the Sox back into contention not only for an AL East title, but also a World Series title, but they need more pieces. Trading Lester gets them 1 or more of those pieces.
I don’t exactly know what sort of return the Red Sox would get for Lester. My best guess is 1 borderline major league ready prospect. Were Atlanta to have a need for a front line starter down the stretch maybe they are willing to part with Julio Teheran. Teheran has great upside, has been compared to Pedro Martinez and is a right handed pitcher who easily touches 97 with his fastball, but has been inconsistent with his off speed and breaking stuff resulting in mildly disappointing results at the minor league level. If Lester is far and away the best pitcher available my trade idea is reasonable. If Lester is ineffective and he isn’t the best pitcher available then 1 high A prospect would be more reasonable. If the Angels were to need pitching help down the stretch maybe they would be willing to trade C.J. Cron who has huge power potential as a first baseman (a position of need for the Red Sox), but is coming off shoulder surgery and is blocked in the Angels system by Albert Pujos and Mark Trumbo. Before the surgery at the end of 2012, Cron had 27 homers and 123 RBIs for the High A affiliate of the Angels. (Now be assured these are not 1 for 1 deals, they would have more pieces involved, but Lester and the prospect would be the core pieces each would be focused on acquiring.) Either way trading an about to be 30 year old pitcher, whose contract is up and receiving high ceiling prospects is a better baseball investment than giving that pitcher 30-60 million dollars over 3-5 years.
I do not want to see the Red Sox trade Lester. I am as sentimental about players spending their entire careers in 1 uniform as anyone on the planet. That being said, in my opinion, the Red Sox are in dire straits in terms of winning games at the major league level and need to make the most of their assets. The combination of Lester’s talent and contract make him arguably the most trade-able major league asset on the Red Sox. But for me I’d rather the Red Sox trade Lester and end up closer to a World Series title, than hold onto him and distance themselves from Championship contention.