Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Friday, April 15, 2016

Red Sox Will Long Regret Replacing Jon Lester With Rick Porcello



Who would you rather have, Red Sox fans: Jon Lester or Rick Porcello?

It’s a no-brainer, isn’t it?

The Red Sox famously lowballed Lester with a four-year, $70 million offer during spring training in 2014.

Most people in baseball thought contract negotiations with Lester should have started at five-years, $100 million. That would have been a reasonable lowball offer, and Lester would have surely negotiated the figure somewhat higher.

When Lester was asked by WEEI in December 2014 if he would have signed a contract extension with Boston that spring if the team had offered him something in the range of five years and $120 million, the lefty replied, “Probably, yes.”

“That is a lot of money to turn down," Lester said. “That would have made it very difficult to turn it down.”

The Red Sox’s final offer was reportedly six years and $135 million. But it was too little, too late. The organization had already screwed up with its initial offer.

Ultimately, Lester signed a six-year, $155 million contract with the Chicago Cubs that month, bringing an end to his excellent Red Sox career.

Lester was, perhaps, the greatest lefty in Red Sox history, helping the Old Towne team win two World Series Championships during his eight-plus seasons in Boston.

I think any reasonable person would concede that the Cubs wildly overpaid for Lester, a pitcher who was entering his age-31 season.

But five-years, $120 million? That seems about right, and the Sox probably could have re-signed Lester with such an offer, as the pitcher himself admitted.

Instead, the Sox ultimately traded Lester to Oakland for Yoenis Cespedes at the 2014 trade deadline, before flipping Cespedes to Detroit in exchange for Porcello later that winter.

So, the Red Sox essentially swapped Lester for Porcello. What a huge mistake.

Boston then offered Porcello a four-year, $82.5 million contract before he had even thrown a single pitch for the team; the righty was already under contract for the 2015 season.

In other words, the Sox could have used that year — which proved to be a disaster for Porcello — as an audition of sorts. They could have waited to see how he responded to pitching in Boston, but they didn't.

I’ve long been on the record as saying that Lester is not an ace. But he is a solid No. 1 on most clubs, and a proven playoff pitcher who rises to the occasion in October.

Lester has never won a Cy Young Award, an ERA crown, a strikeout title or even won 20 games, much less led his league in wins. In fact, he is just a three-time All Star in 10 seasons.

That said, he is heads and shoulders above Porcello, who continues to disappoint the Red Sox and their fans. Porcello has a 4.96 ERA since joining Red Sox last season.

As I noted recently, former GM Ben Cherington gave Porcello his whopper of a contract despite the fact that the righty had reached 200 innings just once in six seasons, while posting a 4.33 career ERA to that point.

Porcello responded in 2015 by having the worst season of his rather unremarkable career, going 9-15 with a 4.92 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP over just 172 innings. In short, he was a disaster.

Meanwhile, Lester gave the Cubs 205 innings last year (the seventh time he’s reached the mark in 10 seasons), while posting a 3.34 ERA and leading the team to the playoffs.

The Red Sox and their fans are left to wonder what could have been.

Lester would have likely cost the Red Sox just $37.5 million more than Porcello ($120 million vs. $82.5 million). While that’s an enormous sum in the real world, it’s a reasonable cost in Major League Baseball for a pitcher of Lester’s caliber — and it’s pocket change to the Red Sox billionaire owner, John Henry.

It was yet another grievous error by Ben Cherington, who compounded his bad decision of not making a reasonable offer to Lester by grossly overpaying for Porcello — a player who had done nothing to warrant such a large contract.

Oh, and by the way, Porcello is now the Red Sox fourth starter and will make more than $20 million for that this season.

Good grief.

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