Four years. $70 million. That was the end of the Jon Lester era in Boston. Oh, I know he still pitched in Boston after that contract extension offer, but for Jon Lester that offer demonstrated just how little he was valued in Boston. And even the final offer did not speak of Boston’s affection for Lester. Not only did the Cubs offer more money, but the end of the contract they offered showed more respect for Lester.
Now maybe time will tell the Red Sox made a good long term decision. After all, Lester is 31, and a six year deal will make him 37 years old at the end. But is that conjecture sufficient enough to justify low-balling Lester? Do not the accomplishments of Lester in Boston, five World Series wins, including all four in the 2013 World Series against the Cardinals gain some extra consideration?
Players want to be appreciated. In fact, we all do. When you put your heart and soul in something, only to be cast aside if it becomes inconvenient, it is hard to believe that you are valued. It is one thing for Lester to say he would take a “home town discount.” It is quite another to discover that you are really being thrown into the clearance bin. And even though the second offer was in the ballpark, so to speak, it was not enough to make up for the feeling of Lester he was not valued.
And look at what the Red Sox were willing to do. Potentially 5 years, $110 million for Hanley Ramirez, and potentially six years, $112 million. While only 28, Sandoval has a history of injury, and at almost 250 pounds at 5’11”, it is hard to imagine that getting much better at avoiding injury. Ramirez is two years older than Sandoval, and has injury troubles of his own. Not to mention that the Red Sox have quite the collection of third basemen and outfielders. Lester was durable. Lester was Mr. October. How did these big signings of Sandoval and Ramirez sit with Lester, especially if he was already feeling undervalued?
Every baseball player at some level knows the game at the professional level is a business. Jon Lester was free, and in fact, did, take his employ to the largest bidder. But in any business, relationships matter. There are those businesses that develop loyalty in its employees because they are loyal to their employees. This is often described as chemistry on a sports team, and one has to wonder what the effect of this Lester situation will have on the other Red Sox players. Will it impact the desire of another free agent to want to come to Boston?
It is not to say that owners need to be friends with their players, far from it. But there are corporations that demonstrate the affinity for an owner can help. Consider how Southwest employees offered to forgo raises after September 11, 2001 to avoid bankruptcy due to the serious reduction in air travel. There is the loyalty engendered by Costco in its employees. Would Lester have taken the “hometown discount”? Maybe.
But when the low-ball offer was made, Lester had no demonstration of loyalty. He knew Theo as well as the Red Sox leadership. So, without the sense of being valued, the better offer of the Cubs made all of the difference. To be sure, Lester liked Boston, and the Red Sox teammates. But at the end of the day, he need to know that he mattered.
Certainly to Red Sox fans, Jon Lester mattered. Even though it did seem unlikely he would return to Boston, I think we were all hoping he would. He was an integral part of Boston baseball over the last eight years, and his performance in Boston, especially in the 2013 World Series. Maybe 2013 made the Red Sox complacent. It was not supposed to be a World Series year for Boston. It followed the epic collapse of 2012, which probably made it just that much sweeter. But 2014 showed there were serious problems with the Red Sox. There is still the need for significant upgrades in pitching. The irony is that chasing Max Scherzer may in fact cost even more than signing Lester would have cost them.
Whether it was his successful battle against cancer, those tremendous Fenway performances we all loved, and the phenomenal World Series performances. And Jon Lester was a nice guy, attentive to his responsibility as a role model to Boston. He sold his Boston house when he was traded. We should have seen then his days in Boston were numbered. But we will always have the great memories that Jon Lester provided. And for those we are very grateful.