Coming off an incredible postseason, Boston exercised Lester’s option for 2014. The 30-year-old left-hander will make $13 million in the coming year, a bargain for his spot in the rotation.
Lester has said repeatedly that he wants to play for the Sox his entire career and there is no doubt that general manager Ben Cherington would love to keep his star pitcher around for the rest of his peak years.
The question is what would be a fair framework for a new deal.
You would have to think Lester is going to ask for a five- or six-year extension. You could also say that he is going to shoot for a deal that is going to pay him in the $18-20 million per season range.
Are the Red Sox going to cough up a six-year, $120 million contract to keep Lester and the fans happy? Should they?
Lester’s detractors will say no, with good reason.
The last two regular seasons have seen Lester’s production fall from No. 1 pitcher’s status to what you would see out of a No. 3 starter. Lester’s K’s-per-nine dropped four years in a row, going from 10.0 in 2009 to a career-low 7.3 in 2012. His ERA ballooned to 4.82 in 2012 and was still high last season at 3.75. Even with the improvement, his ERA+ in 2013 was 109.
Those are not ace of the staff numbers. To base his worth solely on that, however, would require you to ignore his epic postseason run this past October.
Lester was every bit the lockdown ace during in the playoffs that he was in 2008 and ’09 and then some. Winning five of his six starts, he scattered 25 hits over 34.2 innings. Allowed six earned runs, walked eight and struck out 29.
When John Farrell needed him to step up his game and give Boston some needed innings, Lester was a rock. When the pressure was on, Lester answered the challenge, earning back the label of staff ace.
We know what Lester is capable of. From 2008-11, Lester was one of the best left-handers in all of baseball. During that stretch, he had a won-loss record of 64-32 and never had an ERA higher than 3.47. Dominant stuff.
If that Lester was to return, then we would be talking a deal that could easily see him be worth $22-$25 million a season on the open market. Here is a player that has started 30 or more games a year every season since 2008 and has only failed to throw 200 innings once in that time.
If you do not think the New York Yankees would be all over him next winter, well then there is an oceanfront bridge in Arizona that requires your attention.
In today’s market, a five-year extension in the $90-$100 million range with a vesting option for a sixth-year is worth it. A slight overpay, perhaps, but reasonable in a sport that saw revenue climb over $8 billion in 2013.
*All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference.
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