I’m concerned for my Red Sox. My unease isn’t due to the fact that they’re losing – that happens, and I told everyone who would listen that they were due to come back down to earth this year because last season’s team played well over its head. What worries me is the way they’re attempting to build the team.
Recent reports indicate that the Sox are looking to trade ace Jon Lester, the best pitcher the team’s had since Pedro Martinez. We’re talking about a guy with a 3.64 ERA and a 110-63 record in nine big league seasons. If you want to get fancy, he’s got a 3.62 FIP and has generated 22.5 WARP over that time. He’s ninth on the team’s all-time wins list and fourth in strikeouts. He’s thirty years old and he’s only hit the disabled list three times – and two of those were for fucking cancer. I’m going to skip his World Series heroics because I’m not a fan of relying on playoff stats, but he’s been great in the postseason as well. This is a guy every team in the majors should want in their rotation.
So of course, the Red Sox, who pride themselves on being super tough negotiators, low balled Lester during extension talks. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reports the team offered Lester a four year deal between $70 and $80 million. Sounds like a lot of money, right? Not for a player who’s been one of the top ten starters in all of baseball for a good chunk of the last ten years. Pitchers like that regularly receive upwards of $25 million a year on the open market. Lester’s track record certainly makes somewhere in the $20-$25 million a year range more than acceptable.
Here’s where my team-building worries come in. Number one, offering someone like Lester such a shitty deal sends a pretty solid message to the rest of the players in the league that you’re a bunch of assholes. The Sox are the only team Lester’s played for. He beat cancer while coming up in their system. He’s been a part of two World Series victories. He’s made statements indicating he’d prefer to stay in Boston. Shouldn’t all that be worth something? Players constantly talk about wanting to be appreciated. That contract offer suggests the team would never actually give a shit about anyone it employs. If they don’t appreciate Jon Lester, who in the fuck would they ever appreciate? Why would any player ever give 110% for a team they know is going to just dick them over?
Number two, the team’s made a pretty pronounced shift away from signing big money veterans toward developing from within and offering short-term deals to good but not great players. When you’re a low revenue team, this strategy makes sense: keep costs low and roll the dice with kids and cheap retreads. It’s worked in Tampa, but Boston ain’t Florida. New England is one of the biggest baseball markets around and the Red Sox brand stretches all the way across the nation in a way rivaled only by the Yankees. That means they’ve got cash. If you’re a big market team that isn’t using its cash to lockup superstars, you’re wasting your single biggest advantage. Plus, the greatest value of building a strong farm system is that every home grown player you bring up frees up a ton of cash to use elsewhere. The Sox, in focusing on prospects and cost savings, are going about things completely ass backwards. This team should be a mix of high-priced superstars and solid young players on cheap deals.
Third, there’s a growing argument that prospects are becoming overvalued. Dumping a veteran doesn’t generate quite the haul it used to because teams are hording their cheap young assets. The smartest general manager in the game, Oakland’s Billy Beane, seems to have recognized this and flipped it on its head. He recently shipped out blue-chip shortstop prospect Addison Russell and useful young arm Dan Straily to Chicago in exchange for starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, a pair of veterans that should really solidify his staff going forward. He got a borderline ace and a solid number three for one great prospect and a fourth or fifth starter type. Oakland sits at 65-40 as of this writing. That’s only the best record in the Major Leagues.
Regardless of how you slice it, the Sox really fucked this one up. Hopefully it’s a one-time screw up and not a sign of dumb bullshit to come. Lester’s going to look great in pinstripes next year, isn’t he?