The Red Sox have finally offered Jon Lester a contract, according to Gordon Edes of the Worldwide Leader. I don’t say finally because it took them awhile into free agency to make the offer, but just because we’ve been waiting for this very offer since the bitter but hopeful afternoon of July 31.
But I want to look at another piece on ESPN right now, this one by David Schoenfield and referencing Jim Bowden. In the piece, Bowden predicted that Lester would get 6 years, $138 million, for an average of $23 million per year.
At first glance, that seemed low. Max Scherzer turned down 6-144 before the season, and he wouldn’t have done that if he and his agent didn’t know what they were doing. Despite a minor step back from his amazing 2013, Scherzer was still great in 2014, so I think he’ll beat $144M. What’s interesting about Lester, Scherzer, and Cole Hamels, who got an eerily similar 6 years and $144 million before 2013 started, is that they’re all born within 8 months of each other, so we can compare them pretty well.
Now, Hamels has a major difference from Lester and Scherzer: He got paid right before his age 29 season, while Lester will turn 31 in January and Scherzer in July. That definitely matters, but that also means that it’s been 2 years since the deal was signed, and the price for free agents has also risen by a noticeable amount in those couple offseasons.
Hamels was a damn good pitcher, but he had never had a season of more than 4.6 WAR by Fangraphs’ metrics. Lester just came off a season of 6.1, and we all know of his postseason filth. Scherzer’s peak has been better than Lester’s, so it’s hard to compare the two. I’d personally go with Lester because of the postseason performances, but I probably wouldn’t even argue with someone who took Scherzer.
All this makes me feel correct about my original gut feeling that $138 million was too low. I’d (really, really) love for the Sox to keep the Lester deal to 5 years, because he’s not the bulkiest guy and it’s always a risk to be paying for a guy’s age 36 season with a number that starts out with “20” and has 6 more zeros after it. If they do that, I fully expect Lester to get over $25 million per year, and I’d be more than happy about that, even if there’s a big buyout or vesting option attached for the 6th year. If the Sox go to 6 years… well… I’d still want them to go up to $25 or maybe even $26 or $27 million per year for Lester. Payroll flexbility doesn’t start Game 1 of the playoffs, and when a team has very little, if any, bad contracts on the roster (Thanks, Dodgers!), they can afford to spend this kind of cash — so long as the players deserve it. I think Pablo Sandoval does, and I know that Jon Lester does. He’s a superstar, and you have to pay for those guys.