So Jon Lester again looked like the ace he is Saturday.
Are the Red Sox really going to let him walk away?
For his second straight outing, Lester didn’t allow an earned run over eight innings. Only two other Red Sox pitchers have accomplished that: Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez.
Lester, 30, is a free agent after this season. He has said he wants to stay in Boston.
Remember these words from Lester at the Boston Baseball Writers Dinner last January:
“These guys (Red Sox) are my No. 1 priority. I want to be here until they rip this jersey off my back.
“I understand you’re going to take a discount to stay. Do I want to do that? Absolutely.”
Did Boston ownership hear those words and misinterpret “discount” for “cheap?”
The reported first offer Boston made before the season was $70 million for four years.
That looks good for my bank account (and probably yours), but not in comparison to other recent deals – Justin Verlander (seven years/$180 million), Felix Hernandez (seven/$175 million), Masahiro Tanaka (seven/$155 million), Zack Greinke (six/$147 million), Cole Hamels (six/$144 million) and the mega-deal to Clayton Kershaw (seven/$215 million).
Even if you believe Lester isn’t among that group, he’s worth a lot more on the market than four/$70 million.
But do the Red Sox really want to sign Lester to a long-term contract?
Maybe Boston wants to play a little Moneyball. Look at the Oakland A’s, running off to the best record in the American League with their highest-paid starter Scott Kazmir (two-year deal/$22 million). All the other starters made under $1 million.
The knock on Oakland was it didn’t have enough pitching for the playoffs – and the A’s seemed to address that Friday night, acquiring Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Cubs for prospects.
Is that a blueprint for the Red Sox? They can go with more reasonably priced (in their mind) pitchers and, if needed, they could deal from their deep pool of prospects for assistance.
Without Lester and (presumably) Jake Peavy next year, the Red Sox rotation looks something like: John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Brandon Workman, Felix Doubront and Rubby De La Rosa, with Allen Webster, Steven Wright, Anthony Ranaudo and Henry Owens competing for spots.
Buchholz will make $12 million next year and Doubront will be eligible for arbitration. Everyone else is at or near minimum pay of $500,000. Lackey’s contract calls for the minimum for 2015 if he misses a season because of an elbow injury, which he did in 2012.
That’s quite an affordable rotation but can it win? Lackey has a proven track record. Buchholz is as talented as he is unpredictable.
Ditto for Doubront. The rest are big on promise, light in experience.
Think of Boston’s champion teams and they featured proven, experienced arms (Martinez, Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, Lester and Lackey).
The Red Sox may be leery of long-term contracts. The Yankees extended CC Sabathia’s deal in 2012 to five more years at $122 million and he is out for the season, with his career in jeopardy. He is 33.
Verlander, 31, has an ERA of 4.71. He will begin making $28 million next year, through 2019.
Big contracts are risky.
But can the Red Sox afford the gamble of letting Lester walk away?
LACKEY’S CONTRACT is unique in that he goes from making $15.25 million to a 70 percent pay cut next year.
Some media pundits have said Lackey, 35, won’t be happy about this.
Why? He knew it was a possibility when he signed his contract.
Lackey can be a curmudgeon but should be wise enough not to gripe about this.
HENRY OWENS makes his 17th start for the Sea Dogs at 1 p.m. Sunday. And as always we wonder if it will be his last in a Portland uniform. Owens (11-3, 2.30) joined the Sea Dogs on Aug. 1 last year and has been dominating in Double-A.
Owens will skip his next scheduled start to be fresh for the All-Star Futures Game in Minnesota next Sunday. It’s feasible that Owens could move on to Triple-A after that if the Red Sox can find room for him in the Pawtucket rotation.
The Futures Game also will include Sea Dogs second baseman Sean Coyle, who was named to the game after Mookie Betts was promoted to the majors, and former Sea Dogs catcher Christian Vazquez.
Vazquez, 23 and batting .278 for Pawtucket, is in his second year on Boston’s 40-man roster and could use some big-league time if he is indeed one of the Red Sox catchers of the future.