Jeff Chiu/Associated Press
For good reason, Oakland A’s left-hander Jon Lester is considered to be one of the top-two pitchers set to hit free agency at the end of the year.
Numbers don’t lie.
This season, for example, he pitched to a 2.52 ERA and a 2.62 FIP with the Boston Red Sox under the specter of a looming trade once the Red Sox fell out of contention. And since getting dealt to the A’s, he has put up a 2.66 ERA and a 2.86 FIP in seven starts.
His performance this season comes on the heels of starting at least 31 games six seasons in a row and winning at least 15 games in five of those campaigns. He is both durable and dominant.
Recently, there have been a couple of different suggestions regarding where he will be pitching next season. Most of them center on the belief Lester will not be in a Red Sox uniform.
Scott Lauber from the Boston Herald, for example, wrote that while general manager Ben Cherington will make a sincere run at bringing him back into the fold, no one should “believe that a Red Sox-Lester reunion actually will happen.” There are simply too many factors in play against a return.
Jon Heyman from CBS Sports summed up the situation best a couple of weeks ago:
There have been a lot of nice things said by ace starter Jon Lester about the Red Sox since being traded to the Athletics, and that shouldn't be a surprise. There's no reason to think he didn't absolutely love his time in Boston, as he has said both before he left and since he has gone.
Still, it's quite a leap from loving his stay in Boston to being likely to return there this winter as a free agent. The reality is, it's probably the opposite. The strong belief around the game is that Lester is likely to sign somewhere other than the Red Sox.
Where he lands is anyone’s guess, but the New York Yankees, Texas Rangers and Chicago Cubs figure to be involved.
As CBS Chicago’s Bruce Levine noted some time ago, the Cubs have a few things in their favor, including the fact “Lester was drafted and developed by Chicago executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer when both were with Boston.” Levine also noted Darnell McDonald, Lester’s former teammate, was hired as a special assistant to Epstein, providing even more comfort.
The Yankees figure to be heavily involved if for no other reason than they have a glaring need and the money to spend. Meanwhile, the Rangers would love to have an arm like Lester’s to complement Yu Darvish at the top of their rotation.
More will be revealed, of course, but given the circumstances, it looks like the Red Sox may be going after a pitcher of a different ilk.