Good bye, Jon Lester
Getting attached to athletes is risky. Trades and departures via free agency are common. Cleveland was in mourning after LeBron James left for Miami ... and ecstatic when he announced his return. Most of the time, I try to keep athlete departures in perspective. But occasionally there are exceptions. For instance, it was tough to see longtime Boston Celtic Paul Pierce and teammate Kevin Garnett leave for New Jersey so the team could rebuild.
Last week I was sitting an office waiting room reading news updates on my phone when I learned that Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester had been traded to the Oakland A’s, along with outfielder Jonny Gomes. For a brief moment, I felt like I was going to burst into tears, even though I knew a trade was inevitable.
And the blows kept coming: John Lackey to the St. Louis Orioles, reliever Andrew Miller and Stephen Drew to the Yankees. Although the loss of Drew is not much of a loss at all, and I’m not too torn up about the loss of Lackey, Miller and Gomes. I like them, and I appreciate what they did last year, but it will be easy enough to move on.
Lester, on the other hand, is a different story. It will be difficult to see him pitching for another team. He came up through the Red Sox system, won two world series with the team and pitched a no-hitter in 2008. Earlier this year my uncle saw him strike out 15 at Fenway Park. Most Red Sox fans were probably hoping he would spend his entire career with the team. As ESPN Red Sox beat writer Gordon Edes noted, Lester is “the best left-hander ever to wear a Sox uniform not named Ruth or Grove.”
Alas, it was not to be. The Red Sox don’t like to give long contracts to players over 30, and Lester wanted a long contract. And he probably wanted to see what he would earn on the open market — perhaps substantially more than the Red Sox were willing to give him. Now, I generally agree with the Red Sox’s philosophy on long contracts and aging players — they’re usually ill-advised and regrettable. (To get a sense of why the team is so leery of longterm contracts, look no further than the Red Sox’s horrendous $142 million Carl Crawford signing.) But occasionally it’s worth making an exception, and Lester was an exception worth making. He grew up with the team. He was committed to the team. He worked hard. He was durable and gutsy. And while it’s tough to predict the future, there are notable examples of aging pitchers doing great things: Curt Schilling, Randy Johnson, Andy Pettite. Sure, Lester could break down in his early 30s, just as Pedro Martinez did. But he might also pitch very well for a long time. And we all know that good pitching is hard to find.
The departure of Lester and Lackey, along with Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront, has resulted in Clay Buchholz becoming the ace of the staff. This is depressing, and will hopefully be rectified in the offseason. Clay Buchholz is almost 30, and there are too many sportswriters who still talk about his potential and incredible talent, as if he’s just going to blossom into a Cy Young winner.
Yes, Buchholz has great stuff, but he’s also a fragile flower who breaks down just about every season and often seems like a total space cadet. Red Sox fans were willing to tolerate this pattern of behavior because of Clay’s periodic displays of pitching wizardry, and also because he was the third starter. Now that he’s supposed to lead the team, expect Red Sox fans to finally run out of patience and start demanding that he be traded.
Despite my unhappiness about the Lester trade, I have to give Red Sox GM Ben Cherington (and fellow Lebanon High School alum) credit. He is fearless. Not every GM would be so willing to gut a team that won the World Series just a season ago. Of course, nobody should be surprised by Cherington’s fearlessness. After all, this is the man who dumped Crawford, Adrien Gonzalez and Josh Beckett on the Dodgers in what many fans regard as one of the greatest trades in team history. Though the loss of Lester sings, Cherington got a decent return: All-Star Yoenis Cespedes. Considering the Red Sox’s difficulties scoring runs this season, it’s nice to see them bring on a player who can hit.
Even so, the Lester trade was an unpleasant reminder that sports are a business, and a cold one at that. Usually I’m OK with this. But not this time.
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