When the Boston Red Sox traded Jon Lester to the Oakland Athletics on July 31, it appeared to signal the end of a team-player marriage that produced two championships. However, in this crazy era of sports, reunions are becoming the latest trend.
Lester spoke to John Tomase of the Boston Herald prior to his Tuesday start against the Kansas City Royals, saying he wouldn't be opposed to a second stint with the Red Sox when he hits free agency after this season:
My time there, the memories and all that stuff don’t get erased based on this whole ordeal. I’m glad with where I’m at, and I understood where Ben (Cherington) was at. At the end of the season, it’s not going to change my mind about going back there if they are aggressive and competitive and do the things they say they’re going to do. Boston is definitely a place I would go.
This shouldn't come as a shock to anyone. Lester told Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com in January he would be willing to sign a below-market deal to remain in Boston:
I understand that to stay here, you're not going to get a free-agent deal. 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.
It appears that Lester was smart to wait out the market, however, because Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports noted the southpaw is having the best walk year of any pitcher since Randy Johnson and Kevin Brown in 1998:
In 1998, Kevin Brown booked a 2.38 ERA and a 2.23 FIP, and while Randy Johnson's were both higher than Lester's, he threw 244 1/3 innings – Lester is on pace for 233 1/3 – struck out 329, dominated after a deadline deal to Houston and ended up signing a four-year deal with Arizona during which he won the Cy Young all four seasons.
This all comes down to what the Red Sox ultimately want to do. They had every opportunity to give Lester that "fair" deal he was seeking, but Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com reported in April the team was offering a four-year deal in the $70-80 million range.
In the Ben Cherington era, the Red Sox have done their best to avoid long-term contracts, especially to pitchers. They re-signed Dustin Pedroia to a seven-year extension in July 2013, but no other player is under contract past 2015.
Giving out massive contracts to free agents, even one the Red Sox know as well as Lester, hasn't been Cherington's modus operandi. In fact, he has seemingly gone out of his way to ensure those deals don't happen. Case in point: Lester's initial contract offer in April.
The Red Sox fell apart in 2012 because they were overwhelmed with bad contracts for players like Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett. They got rid of those, handed out a number of short-term deals to players such as Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino in the winter and won a title in 2013.
Lester may still have Boston on his mind, but the Red Sox don't have any recent history of doing the type of business it will take to entice the three-time All-Star to return.
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