Commentary

No excuse not to lock up Jon Lester

Homegrown Red Sox star will stay for a discount, so ball is in Boston's court

Updated: January 24, 2014, 2:36 AM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- What a concept.

Jon Lester said he not only understands he would have to take a discount to sign an extension with the Red Sox, he's willing to do so. That doesn't guarantee he'll remain in a Sox uniform but makes it a strong likelihood he won't be leaving town as a free agent after the season.

"These guys are my No. 1 priority," Lester said. "I want to be here 'til they rip this jersey off my back."

Just as was the case with second baseman Dustin Pedroia, Lester said his desire to stay with the only team he has known since being drafted almost a dozen years ago trumps his need to claim every last dollar.

[+] EnlargeJon Lester
David J. Phillip/Pool Photo/USA TODAY SportsThere's no pitcher more important to the Red Sox than Jon Lester, who won Games 1 and 5 of the World Series.

That will play well with a fan base accustomed to watching its favorites skip town for the best offer on the table, the latest example being Jacoby Ellsbury, who signed a seven-year, $153 million contract with the Yankees after making it clear to the Sox there would be no concessions made to the home team.

It certainly played well with Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino, who broke into a wide smile when Lester's comments were relayed to him Thursday night at the Boston Baseball Writers Dinner.

"Love that," he said. "I appreciate hearing that a lot. Loyalty is a two-way street, and he has shown that to us and we've tried to show that to him over the years and hope that continues as long as he is a baseball player. We love the cradle-to-grave Red Sox player, so to speak.

"We've tried to make Boston a destination ever since we got here. When I hear those words from Jon Lester, in particular, it's very encouraging, very comforting."

So how safe is it to say the desire is mutual?

"You can say that, and underscore it," Lucchino said.

That doesn't make Lester any nobler than Ellsbury, who was merely exercising the prerogative he earned under the system, the same course that the vast majority of players pursue when the opportunity comes.

In a market in which pitching salaries are exploding -- Clayton Kershaw just became baseball's first $30 million pitcher and a number of Lester's peers are being paid an average of $20 million-plus per season -- Lester can expect to wind up in that neighborhood even if he doesn't test the free-agent market.

SportsNation

If you were running the Red Sox, how much would you be willing to pay Jon Lester per season in a contract extension? Lester will make $13 million this season.

  •  
    8%
  •  
    45%
  •  
    42%
  •  
    3%
  •  
    2%

Discuss (Total votes: 12,095)

(Kershaw, as Lester attested, occupies a different zip code. "Kind of like Miguel Cabrera, they need to go play in their own league and hopefully get out of this one," he said.)

But it demonstrates Lester's decision to give greater weight to factors other than the bottom line. Coming off his performance in 2013, culminating with a dominating postseason in which he won four of his five starts and posted an 0.59 ERA in two World Series wins in which he struck out 15 and walked one, Lester loomed as one of the big prizes on the open market, along with right-hander Max Scherzer, especially with Kershaw now off the market.

Instead, he prefers the Sox strike a deal with him, preferably during spring training, so he can just focus on business during the regular season. If that means taking less money, so be it.

"I understand that to stay here, you're not going to get a free-agent deal," he said. "You're not going to do it. You can't. It's not possible. You're bidding against one team. I understand you're going to take a discount to stay. Do I want to do that? Absolutely.

"But just like they want it to be fair for them, I want it to be fair for me and my family."

Lester has known Sox GM Ben Cherington since he was drafted in 2002. He has won two World Series here. He survived a bout with cancer. He endured the backlash of chicken and beer, stumbled badly in 2012, then reclaimed his place among the game's best pitchers in 2013.

"I've grown up with Pedey in the minor leagues, watched him turn into what I consider the best second baseman in the league," he said. "I don't want to leave that and leave this organization just for a few dollars to try something new. I don't like new stuff. I don't like areas, situations I can't really control.

"Since we left Boston [for their offseason home in Atlanta], all my son has talked about is going home to Boston. He says, 'I want to go home to Boston.' This is our home. This is what my family knows, this is what we've become comfortable with.

"I understand what the market does, both in the free-agent market and when you don't reach free agency and do an extension. I would love to stay here, and we'll see what happens."

What a concept. Get it done.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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