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Tony Massarotti

Pitching, Not Lester, the Priority for Red Sox

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Jon Lester this, Jon Lester that. Jon Lester, Jon Lester, Jon Lester.

So let’s get something straight.

The Red Sox don’t need Jon Lester.

What they need is good pitching, in any variety of ways, shapes or forms.

And so, as baseball’s winter meetings near and talk about Lester intensifies to the point of downright inundation, now might be a good time for everyone to remember that many of us thought Lester was gone a long, long time ago. Do we want him? Sure. He works here.

Since Lester came into the big leagues in 2006, among all pitchers with at least 1,000 innings – roughly the equivalent of five full seasons – Lester’s has the ninth-best winning percentage (.634) in baseball. The only names in front of him are Roy Halladay (.667), Clayton Kershaw (.667), Jered Weaver (.655), C.C. Sabathia (.653), Max Scherzer (.645), Adam Wainwright (.643), Zack Greinke (.640) and Justin Verlander (.636).

Plain and simple, Lester wins in Boston. And given the concerns that exist with most any pitcher at any age, albeit in varying degrees, that is a variable that should not be dismissed.

But it hardly makes Lester the only option for a Red Sox organization that has plenty of money and prospects to deal.

Of course, sentimentality disappeared from professional sports a long time ago, and yet there are still people who cling to what is familiar purely because it is well, familiar. To this Red Sox administration, Lester should have special value and meaning. He was the very first draft pick under the ownership of John Henry, the first of many purebreds reared during this administration. He has been in the organization for three world titles and won two at the big league level. He has survived cancer. As much as anyone, Lester grew up during a time when the Red Sox altered their identity and culture, when the Red Sox became more about winning and less about spectacular, backbreaking failure.

If you’re at all attached to him, you should be. Lester’s seven full seasons in the majors have produced have produced six years with a winning percentage of .593 or better. He has generally been consistent. He has performed in the postseason. He has failed and bounced back.

But at this stage, players come and players go.

Before anyone interprets this as a defense of the Red Sox and how they have handled the Lester talks, stop. It isn’t. If Boston now falls short in the Lester sweepstakes, don’t let the Red Sox feed you the slop of saying that Lester, after indicating he would take a hometown discount, ultimately just wanted the money. That is spam way past any expiration date. spam.jpgLester made that remark before last season, when he had a season remaining on his contract. The Red Sox had countless options. They could have ripped up the last year of Lester’s deal and given him more money up front. And because they were signing Lester early, they might have been able to land him with a five-year contract at a slightly discounted rate.

But now? Please. Once a player hits the market, discounts no longer apply. The market dictates the price. Lester pitched the entire 2014 season and he pitched well. The Red Sox overplayed their hand, rolled the dice and lost in what became a worst-case scenario for ownership and management: Lester was terrific, the team stunk and the young pitching in the Boston organization didn’t sufficiently develop. Talk about an unmitigated disaster.

No matter what happens now, the Red Sox are paying for that mistake. Even if Lester returns, he will cost them tens of millions more than would have in the spring.

Nice job fellas.

But if Lester ends up elsewhere, are the Sox, as the saying goes, SOL? (That’s spit-outta-luck.) No. If they wanted to, they could enter the bidding for someone like Scherzer. They could sign James Shields and trade for any one of a number of pitchers potentially available on the trade market, from Cole Hamels to Jordan Zimmerman to Chris Sale and beyond. They could trade for mid-rotation starters, load up in the bullpen and compete in a softened American League East, all while continuing to wait for their young pitchers to develop.

Winning or losing on Lester alone is not going to make or break the 2015 Red Sox season.

But if they fail to sufficiently replace him – and, for that matter, John Lackey – you should treat whatever the Red Sox try to feed you for what it is.

More Spam.

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