FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Red Sox ace Jon Lester, extraordinary pitcher and model employee, saves his hardball game for the field. When it comes to contract negotiations, there are no breaking pitches, no changeups. When he says he wants to stay a Red Sox, he means it.
“I don't like change,” Lester said in an interview with CBSSports.com about a week ago. “I like being where I've been. I like the people. I like the surroundings. It feels like home.”
Lester talks glowingly about life as a Red Sox to any and all who inquire. He puts no deadline on contract talks -- “if it takes the first couple weeks into the season, it takes the first could weeks into the season” -- and he sends verbal bouquets to Boston, even before they all get into serious bargaining mode.
Lester's bosses -- Red Sox owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner and president Larry Lucchino -- are loving what they must see as an unusual and refreshing public stand. And why wouldn't they? They liked it so much, in fact, they told him as much.
“We appreciate him saying he wants to be a Red Sox. We're crazy about him,” Werner said, speaking while standing next to Henry.
“We'd all love him to stay and hope he's pitching for the Red Sox past this year,” Werner continued. “He's been such a valuable player for us. It would be a great deal for the organization if we can figure out an extension.”
While Lester apparently isn't so desperate that he made sure to sign before coming within a season of free agency, as he is now, his hopes are clear -- to stay in Boston for a long time. His agents, the Levinsons, who a few months ago did the team-friendly $100-million, seven-year Dustin Pedroia extension (is Robinson Cano really twice as good?), arrived at Red Sox camp, as reported by Rob Bradford of WEEI.com. No one has suggested yet when meetings are planned for.
Lester isn't the kind who's focused on money, but when a potential nine-figure deal is in the offing, it's hard not to think about it on occasion. Lester calls it “the elephant in the room.”
Not many great pitchers, and Lester is most certainly a great one, re-sign only months before free agency, with that pot of gold within grasp. But at this point, any result other than a sizable extension would be an upset.
Even so, he isn't guaranteeing it'll be done by Opening Day. “Something like this is going to take time,” Lester said. ‘I'd like to get it done down here. But it's going to be a tedious process. I think it would be ideal to get it done here. But I don't know if it's something you can put a deadline on.”
Thanks to Lester's consistently terrific performance (save for that lost Red Sox year of 2012), which includes 15-plus wins five of the last six seasons, Boston saved itselfs many millions with the last dea. It paid him $43 million over those six years, a team-friendly deal that included a very team-friendly extension as a kicker. Lester's a smart one, and don't think he hasn't noticed where the pitching market is going.
It's up pretty much across the board, whether you're a great ace like Clayton Kershaw ($215 million, seven years), an international sensation like Masahiro Tanaka ($155 million, plus $20 million posting fee) or a young pitcher with potential like Homer Bailey ($105 million, six years). Adam Wainwright's $97.5-million, five-year contract would seem to be a good comp considering both are clutch aces (Wainwright has better peripheral numbers but has a bigger injury history). But that was before some of the new deals came in.
In any case, rather than suggest the new trend places him in some financial stratosphere, Lester simply marvels at the good fortune of the pitching business. “It's kinda crazy where the market's going,” Lester said.
At the same time, he can understand why that is. “You see plenty of good offenses with mediocre pitching staffs that don't go anywhere.”
Lester's goal at this point is not to go anywhere else. Oh, he could cash in big-time as a free agent. There aren't many 30-year-old pitchers who are 100-56 lifetime with a 3.76 ERA and much better than that in the postseason, where he has a lifetime 2.11 ERA, thanks largely to World Series dominance in two championship years, 2007 and '13. He has a 0.43 World Series ERA.
Lester is way underpaid now at $13 million, an option the Red Sox picked up in a nanosecond. Considering the deals signed lately, he's way better than a $20-million-a-year pitcher. So without blinking, he should be getting a 50-percent raise.
Lester doesn't talk in those terms. He makes sure not to say anything out of line. He offers no brags, and suggests no threats. While he does allow that it could take awhile, that is only natural in a case of such big bucks, of course.
But, ultimately, it's almost impossible to imagine him as a holdout or a free agent. If you're comfortable where you are, he opines, why seek something else?
“It's one of those things where some of the guys like to gamble. We'll see,” Lester said.
“I will gamble. But I'm not a big-time gambler.”