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Jon Lester Rumors
Brandon Moss could not help but become aware that the Athletics have made some notable additions that have a bearing on his status with the club, writes Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. Moss, who avoided the need for micro-fracture surgery on his hip and expects to be ready to go on something close to a normal schedule this spring, says he realizes that the additions of Billy Butler and Ike Davis could set up some other changes. “You never know; the front office likes to mix up,” said Moss. “I’m trying not to let anything surprise me, because I don’t want to be blindsided. Obviously, I love playing in Oakland, but when this happened, I knew it could mean someone else gets moved.”
Here’s more from the American League:
- In addition to the four players noted yesterday, the Mariners are interested in Evan Gattis of the Braves, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. Seattle is determined to come away with one of Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, Nelson Cruz, Yoenis Cespedes, and Gattis, per the report. The M’s made a competitive offer for Victor Martinez before he re-signed with the Tigers, Heyman adds.
- Talks between the Red Sox and Jon Lester are not on any kind of timetable, according to Rob Bradford of WEEI.com (Twitter links). Lester is still making the rounds and considering his alternatives, per Bradford.
- The Yankees are willing to go to three years in a deal for third baseman Chase Headley, Heyman reports. But Headley, unsurprisingly, is out looking for longer, better offers. New York is unlikely to go further than three, Joel Sherman reported yesterday, and it seems that Headley is drawing sufficient interest to get a fourth year guaranteed.
- The Rays have announced that bench coach Dave Martinez will pursue other opportunities with another organization. Martinez was not listed as a finalist to replace Joe Maddon in the big league dugout, making a separation seem all but inevitable.
- After a wide search, the Twins have agreed bring on Neil Allen as the team’s pitching coach, along with Eddie Guardado as bullpen coach and Joe Vavra as the bench coach to new skipper Paul Molitor. Allen had been the Rays’ pitching coach at Triple-A Durham.
At today’s press conference to announce the signing of Hanley Ramirez, Red Sox owner John Henry told reporters, including WEEI.com’s Alex Speier, that his team is willing to exceed the $189MM luxury tax threshold in 2015. “The way it’s structured we can blow through one year,” Henry said. “Again for next year we have tremendous flexibility so we could go could through for one year and not overly effect us.”
Henry added that his previous comments about aversion to long-term contracts were overblown and stated, “You can’t win unless you engage in free agency.” The Red Sox’ early actions this offseason have exemplified that line of thinking, as the team today announced the signing of Ramirez to a four-year, $88MM contract (with a vesting option for a fifth season) and Pablo Sandoval to a five-year $95MM contract. Additionally, they inked Koji Uehara to a two-year, $18MM pact before he even hit the open market.
Boston’s spending doesn’t seem the least bit likely to stop there, as both Henry expressed that he is hopeful of securing a reunion with Jon Lester, who is a well-known target of GM Ben Cherington. Boston is believed to be looking at to add at least two starting pitchers this season and has also been linked to trade target Cole Hamels and free agent James Shields, among others.
The flexibility to which Henry refers is significant; Mike Napoli ($16MM AAV), Shane Victorino ($13MM AAV), Edward Mujica ($4.75MM AAV) and Yoenis Cespedes ($9MM AAV) are all coming off the books following the upcoming season. As Speier examined in depth yesterday, the Red Sox figure to already be within $7-8MM of the $189MM threshold, and that’s without adding a pair of starters as well as perhaps a backup catcher and another bullpen arm. However, the team will also undoubtedly be offloading some significant salary in trades of its outfield surplus. Cespedes has been heavily rumored as a likely trade candidate, and any of Victorino, Allen Craig, Daniel Nava could theoretically be moved as well.
Yesterday, we took a look at some news and rumors on free agent Jon Lester and the connection of his market to the trade market for Cole Hamels. As things continue to develop for Lester, here’s the latest …
- Bruce Levine of 670thescore.com hears that the Cubs are very much in on Lester still. The Cubs have been on top of the situation from the beginning, Levine writes, and while his source wouldn’t wager a guess as to where Lester will sign, the source did indicate that an annual salary of $25MM or more.
- The Cubs have made Lester an offer of over $135MM and are willing to go to six years on a deal, according to a report from David Kaplan of CSNChicago.com (audio and written version).
- Kaplan also reports that the Giants‘ interest in Lester is real and significant. The lefty is scheduled for a visit to San Francisco next week, per ESPN.com’s Jim Bowden (Twitter links).
- Red Sox manager John Farrell told reporters, including Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald, that he is “confident that we’re making every attempt internally here and the hope would be to get [Lester] back here.” But things could still take some time to shake out, with Farrell adding that he expects to “get a better read on that in the coming weeks.”
Earlier today we heard that the Giants have shown interest in Jon Lester, and that interest may now increase with Pablo Sandoval reportedly set to join the Red Sox. San Francisco would make another entrant in a Lester race that has begun to take clearer shape over the past week or so. And, of course, the connection to the Phillies‘ trade market for Cole Hamels cannot be ignored, with several reports suggesting that the two southpaws’ fates are intertwined.
Here are today’s Lester and Hamels rumors…
- Two NL GMs told Peter Gammons over the weekend that Lester is nearing a deal with the Red Sox. However, Gammons writes that the info doesn’t appear to be accurate at this time, as Lester is set to meet with the Cardinals sometime next week. According to Gammons, Lester might wish to have a deal in place in advance of the Winter Meetings, which begin Dec. 7 in San Diego. WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford echoes that there’s nothing close between the Red Sox and Lester at this time (Twitter link).
- Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe tweets that the Red Sox and Lester are still “very much engaged” and it does appear possible for the Sox to add Lester, Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez (who agreed to a four-year, $88MM pact with Boston earlier today).
- The Red Sox and Cubs are interested in Hamels, and both could “jump” at the chance to acquire him if they miss on Lester, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Boston has had the “most serious talks” with Philadelphia, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today (via Twitter), with Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports tweeting that the Phils are confident in striking a deal if Lester does not return to his former club.
- The Dodgers are also in on Hamels, according to a tweet from Nightengale. Los Angeles represents a potentially powerful new entrant to that market, of course, and could shake up the pursuit if it decides to commit significant resources to adding a third stellar lefty to its rotation.
It appears likely — though not yet 100 percent certain — that Giants mainstay Pablo Sandoval is on his way to the Red Sox, and the Giants may look to go a different route recouping the lost value. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports spoke to one person with knowledge of the team’s thinking who believed the loss of Sandoval could put San Francisco in play for Jon Lester, and Rosenthal then confirmed with a source that the Giants have indeed shown interest in Lester (Twitter links).
Earlier this morning, reports indicated that Sandoval had agreed to a five-year pact with the Red Sox, but his agents have since publicly stated that no agreement is in place with Boston or any other club at this point. Sandoval will make his decision today, his agent told WEEI.com’s Alex Speier, so we’ll have some closure in the near future.
If the union with Boston does indeed to come to fruition, Lester makes for a logical, albeit more expensive target for Giants GM Brian Sabean (Boston has reportedly already offered Lester $110-120MM over six years). The Giants have little rotation certainty, despite coming off a 2014 World Series victory. Madison Bumgarner is an unquestioned ace, but Jake Peavy and Ryan Vogelsong are free agents. Matt Cain will be returning from elbow surgery. Tim Hudson will be 40 next July, and Tim Lincecum has proven to be unreliable at this stage of his career. Lester could likely be penciled in for 200+ innings and provide some much-needed stability.
Of course, such a pursuit does leave the Giants thin at third base and on the lookout for offense. One other alternative, Rosenthal tweets, would be to pursue Chase Headley. He characterizes a Headley pursuit as “likely” for San Francisco, should Sandoval depart. The switch-hitting Headley would become the prize of the free agent market at third base, and the Giants would no doubt have competition for his services. The Yankees are said to very much want Headley back, but any club that showed interest in Sandoval could logically have some interest in Headley as well. That would include the Blue Jays and White Sox, although to this point, those matches are speculative on my behalf, as there’s yet to be a firm connection to Headley for either club.
The Red Sox are “trying hard” to sign both Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. An industry source tells WEEI.com’s Alex Speier the Red Sox are in advanced conversations with Ramirez and a deal “could come together quickly” adding the potential for an agreement is real.
Heyman notes the Red Sox have remained in contact with Ramirez since the recent GM meetings in Phoenix and suggestions are those talks have grown more serious in recent days. Heyman writes it’s unclear what position Ramirez, who has also been linked to the Mariners and Astros, might play if he signs with Boston, where he started his career, but stresses the Red Sox are in play for both Ramirez and Sandoval. Speier theorizes the Red Sox would play Sandoval at third base and shift Ramirez to left field increasing the possibility of a Yoenis Cespedes trade.
The Red Sox held a second meeting with Sandoval this week, per MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes, and have a five-year, $95MM offer on the table. Yesterday, it was reported the Red Sox, Giants, and the Padres are the finalists for Sandoval’s services.
The Red Sox could make it a triple play in free agency as they are also in talks with Jon Lester. Boston has reportedly made Lester a six-year offer worth between $110-120MM. The left-hander has met with the Red Sox, Cubs, and Braves this past week and will meet with two more teams this week and has been linked to the Cardinals, as well.
Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe asked about a dozen GMs in Phoenix about the Yankees’ situation and not one of them thought the Bombers would stay away from a major signing. For all the talk about the Cubs being a major player for Jon Lester, the Red Sox are still fearful that it’ll be the Yankees that swoop in and grab him. More from today’s column..
- Both center fielder Dexter Fowler and catcher Jason Castro are available in a deal and the Astros wouldn’t mind dealing for bullpen help. Fowler had a decent year and enjoyed more success as a right-handed hitter. The 28-year-old (29 by Opening Day) slashed .327/.419/.467 as a right-handed hitter but hit just .260/.361/.376 from the other side of the plate. Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle has heard that the asking price is high on Castro and that there aren’t any contract talks currently taking place between the two sides.
- Jason Hammel’s agent, Alan Nero, told Cafardo that teams have called on his client but no great advancements have been made on a contract. Nero figures the secondary pitching market may take a while to develop.
- Diamondbacks left-hander Wade Miley has become a popular trade target of a few teams, and while Arizona will listen, it will take a haul to get him.
- Free agent catcher David Ross wonders whether his status with the Red Sox hinges on whether they sign Jon Lester. Lester and Ross had a great run together in 2013 and the catcher tells Cafardo that the two will get together after Thanksgiving. Ross says that he’s begun to field interest from other teams in the interim.
- The Phillies will shop Carlos Ruiz and while plenty of teams need catchers, his age (35) and his contract will be a problem. Ruiz has two years left on his deal at $8.5MM per year plus a $4.5MM option for 2017 that can bought out for $500K.
While Andrew Miller is said to have multiple three-year offers in hand already, the other top reliever on this year’s market, David Robertson, just may end up finding someone to meet his reported asking price of “Jonathan Papelbon money.” Andrew Marchand of ESPNNewYork.com spoke with four executives, each of whom believed that Robertson would receive his desired four years and at least come close to Papelbon’s average annual salary. An NL exec said he thought Robertson would meet his goal, while an AL exec said that though his first instinct was “no,” after seeing how the market has played out early on, he’s changed his thinking. A second NL exec and an AL scout said they could see at least four years and $40MM, with the scout saying it could go higher, because it only takes one team to push up that value.
Here’s more on some of the top free agents of the offseason…
- Jon Lester will meet with at least two more teams next week, a source tells WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford. Lester met with the Red Sox, Cubs and Braves this week. The Sox reportedly made a six-year offer in the $110-120MM range and are willing to negotiate further. The Braves reportedly have yet to extend a formal offer.
- The Twins have a “real shot” to sign Torii Hunter, tweets La Velle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN hears the same (Twitter link), adding that the pitch to Hunter from manager Paul Molitor is that Hunter can come back to Minnesota and provide the same type of mentoring to their young players that Molitor and the late Kirby Puckett provided Hunter when he was a minor leaguer. Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press tweets that Hunter would be taking a significant paycut to return to Minnesota, however.
- Elsewhere in the Hunter market, ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports that the Orioles and Giants are keeping Hunter as a back-burner option in case their initial free agent pursuits don’t play out as they hope (Twitter links). In addition to those two teams, the Twins and the Royals, Crasnick hears that the Mariners have kicked the tires on Hunter.
- Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski appeared on MLB Network Radio with Jim Bowden today and said that while he couldn’t rule out the return of ace Max Scherzer, he feels the chances were better last spring (Twitter link). The Tigers, of course, made Scherzer a six-year, $144MM extension offer, which he rejected.
Though the Braves met with Jon Lester‘s camp yesterday, the team did not make a formal offer to the free agent lefty, reports David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Twitter link). Beyond that, president of baseball operations John Hart told ESPN’s Jayson Stark that the possibility of Lester signing in Atlanta is a “long shot,” but added that he is keeping all doors open (Twitter link).
Here’s more from the NL East…
- In an interview with Bob Nightengale of USA Today, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria says that the Giancarlo Stanton extension is only the beginning of his team’s offseason additions. Loria candidly discusses the team’s 2012 fire sale, stating that he knew he was going to get killed for it in the media but simply didn’t feel the mix of players the club had acquired was going to work. Loria adds that he’s not concerned with what other owners think of the Stanton extension and is putting behind him the days of fire sales as he looks to make winning a “part of the tradition of this baseball club.” Loria says he feels that his team will be competitive next season and that come September, the Marlins will not only be competitive, but contending. Nightengale backs up previous reports that the Marlins have indeed made an offer to Adam LaRoche.
- Jon Niese‘s trade value simply isn’t what it used to be, Andy Martino of the New York Daily News hears, despite what the Mets consider to be a team-friendly contract. Niese is owed $7MM in 2015 and $9MM in 2016 with a pair of club options valued at $10MM and $11MM. However, one executive from a somewhat interested team told Martino, “I think they underestimate the impact his injuries have had on perception. It’s not a team-friendly contract if he is on the DL.” Niese did toss 187 innings in 2014, but he’s had shoulder and elbow issues over the past two years.
- The Mets are interested in re-signing left-hander Dana Eveland and right-hander Buddy Carlyle, reports Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com. The Mets cut each reliever loose to avoid arbitration increases but have interest in each journeyman on a lower-cost deal. Both were effective in 2014, though Eveland was sidelined for the final few weeks of the season with an elbow injury.
- Rubin also hears that the Mets will wait out some free agent options at shortstop and could take action later in the offseason if players on whom their currently lukewarm drop their asking prices (Twitter links). He also hears that the Mets would be willing to forfeit their second-round pick to add another qualifying offer free agent if the player was stuck without a contract come January. Of course, the Mets already gave up their first-round pick to sign Michael Cuddyer.
Ten months ago, the common belief was that Jon Lester would sign an extension that would keep him in a Red Sox jersey into his late 30s. A lot can change in a few months, however, and Lester soon found himself donning the green and gold of the Oakland A’s following a midseason trade from a surprisingly poor Boston club. Though many Red Sox fans wouldn’t have believed it would come to this, the lefty is now fair game on the open market.
To put things in the simplest of forms, Lester is a true ace at this point in his career. He misses bats, has strong control and piles up innings. Among free agent starters, Lester’s 2.46 ERA last year leads the pack by a long shot, as does his 2.80 FIP. He was worth 6.1 wins above replacement, per Fangraphs’ version of the metric (which is based on FIP), and he was worth 5.8 wins when looking at RA9-WAR, which is based on actual runs allowed. Both metrics were tops among free agent starters. He struck out 220 hitters and walked just 48 in 219 2/3 innings this season (9.0 K/9, 2.0 BB/9).
The 2014 campaign marked the sixth time in seven seasons that Lester has topped the 200-inning threshold, and he totaled a strong 191 2/3 in the lone season he fell short (2011). His 219 2/3 innings trails only Max Scherzer (220 1/3) and James Shields (227) among fellow free agents. Dating back to 2008, his age-24 season, Lester has averaged 207 innings per season. He’s hit the DL just once in that time, spending a mere 19 days on the shelf with a strained lat in his left shoulder. That minor injury is all that prevented him from seven straight 200-inning seasons.
Lester was a strikeout machine early in his career, but his K/9 numbers dipped in recent seasons, settling in the mid-7.00s before his resurgent 9.0 K/9 in 2014. Lester pounded the strike zone early this season, registering a 61.4 percent first-pitch strike rate — the highest mark of his career. Perhaps being ahead in the count more often than ever improved the effectiveness of his curveball, or perhaps it was the fact that he threw it slower than ever before (75.1 mph average), but Lester’s 18.2 percent whiff rate on his curve was easily the strongest of his career, resulting in the restored strikeout rate.
Most of Lester’s career has come in a large market in the game’s most hitter-friendly division, and he’s thrived in that setting, for the most part. Teams will appreciate that component of his game, and his postseason experience won’t hurt either. Lester has a 2.57 career ERA in 84 postseason innings. He’s a two-time World Series champion that has been on five playoff rosters.
Lester’s main competition this year will be Scherzer, with Shields representing the third-best arm on the market. However, unlike his peers atop this year’s free agent class, Lester does not have a qualifying offer attached to him; he was ineligible to receive one after being traded midseason and can therefore be signed without the forfeiture of a draft pick.
Lester was flat out elite this season, much like he was in his first full three seasons, but from 2011-13, he looked more like a good starter than a truly great one. In that time, Lester posted a 4.03 ERA, 3.84 FIP, 7.7 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 — useful numbers to be sure, but not the type of stats one associates with a pitcher in search of a six- or seven-year contract.
Though he averaged better than 93 mph on his fastball earlier in his career, Lester’s velocity settled into the mid-92 range from 2011-13 and dipped even further in 2014, averaging 91.8 mph. Of course, that’s still plenty of life, especially considering the fact that he’s left-handed.
Lester turns 31 in January, meaning that a six-year deal would run through his age-36 season and a seven-year pact would run through his age-37 campaign. Clearly, that’s a risky commitment, though such is the case with all top-of-the-market free agents. He’s younger than Shields, but Scherzer pitches most of next season at age 30, so his main competitor has age on his side.
Lester’s battle with cancer early on in his career was well-documented, and in addition to the great comeback story that culminated in him winning the clinching game of the 2007 World Series, that battle has shaped the work he’s done in the community. Lester partnered with Charity Wines to release his own line of red wine, the proceeds of which benefit the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. His NVRQT charity sends all of its proceeds to the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation, and Lester explained how the charity came about and what it means to him in a guest column for the Boston Globe in 2013.
This past July, Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe wrote about the strides Lester has made in terms of maturity both on the mound and with the media after being a bit hot-tempered earlier in his career. (Abraham references glaring at umpires after questionable calls and the infamous chicken-and-beer incident as examples.)
Lester is married and has two sons. The Tacoma, Washington native now resides near Atlanta in the offseason.
Lester is one of the arms referred to as the “Big Three” of this offseason, along with Scherzer and Shields. However, while MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes noted that a third or more of the teams in the league could have viable interest in Shields, the younger Lester figures to come with a higher price tag that may take him out of the picture for a number of clubs.
Lester stated multiple times that he’d like to return to Boston, and last winter he told reporters that he planned to be with the Red Sox until someone “ripped the jersey off his back.” However, the Red Sox made an initial offer of $70MM over four years, at that point, and while the reported $110-120MM offer they made today might have worked in March, it feels too light to make them a serious contender right now.
The other popular landing spot for Lester is the Cubs, where former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein is now president of baseball operations. Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer were members of the Boston front office when Lester emerged as a front-line starter, and the team is rich on young hitters without much in the way of high-upside pitching (Jake Arrieta is a notable exception).
Other teams that figure to enter the mix are the typical names we see assorted with high-end free agents. Though the Yankees maintain that they won’t pursue Lester, Scherzer or Shields, it’s possible they’ll change their tune if they’re unable to re-sign Brandon McCarthy and Chase Headley. The Dodgers have the cash to pull off a deal, though they’re said to be looking to tone down spending this winter. I still won’t rule them out as a possibility. The Tigers and Angels have high payrolls but cloudy long-term outlooks thanks to existing salary on the books. Neither seems a fit barring trades to create some long-term flexibility.
The rest of Lester’s market will have to consist of dark horses, and agents Seth and Sam Levinson of ACES will likely need to pitch to owners of some unlikely teams that Lester could be a franchise-altering decision. To this point, the Royals have shown some preliminary interest, and Lester is set to meet with the Braves on Thursday. The Cardinals have also been linked to Lester.
Beyond that, a team like the Astros has the long-term payroll freedom to make a move, as do the Marlins, who could feel that adding Lester would be a significant step toward building a perennial contender now that they’ve extended Giancarlo Stanton. The Nationals have plenty of money and are set to lose both Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister next winter. Trading one and swapping him out for Lester could is a long shot but not unthinkable. The Giants haven’t spent at this level on the free agent market since their ill-fated Barry Zito deal, but they have rotation needs and are flush with cash following the World Series. The Rangers deserve a mention as a team with a willingness to spend and a need for starters, but GM Jon Daniels has indicated they may not be big spenders on the open market. Could a reunion with his hometown Mariners be in the cards? Seattle’s primary need is offense, but if they again have trouble luring hitters to Safeco Field, GM Jack Zduriencik could double down on an existing strength and look to build an even more imposing rotation.
As is often the case with big name free agents, it’s easy to look at Lester right now and think that outside of the traditional big spenders, there’s not much of a market for him if he’s seeking six or seven years at an annual value north of $20MM. With players of this caliber, the market isn’t always quick to reveal itself, but it does eventually materialize, and we typically see the top names get paid.
Lester has said free agency isn’t all about the money, but I’d be surprised if his agents hadn’t at least kicked around the goal of trying to break CC Sabathia‘s $161MM guarantee, which is still the record for a free agent pitcher. (The Yankees did spend $175MM on Masahiro Tanaka, but $20MM of that sum went to Tanaka’s former team in Japan.)
Were Lester coming off a pair of dominant seasons, as Scherzer is, I think there would be a better case for that figure. As it is, however, he showed a significant gap between his two most recent dominant seasons. Also of note is that Sabathia, like fellow high-priced hurlers Zack Greinke and Cole Hamels, signed his contract at a significantly younger age than Lester. While we have to account for some inflation, as those deals are now older (and Hamels’, of course, was not an open-market deal), Lester may have a hard time getting the seventh guaranteed season. Looking at the majority of the significant pitching contracts signed in recent history, guarantees typically stop in the age-36 season, if not sooner. If that’s the case, Lester would need to achieve a $27MM annual salary to top Sabathia on a six-year deal, which seems a touch steep.
In the end, I do think Lester can top the marks set by Hamels and Greinke. Lester was the best performer among free agent pitchers in 2014, so I can’t completely rule out him getting a seventh year and/or passing Sabathia’s mark. However, his age and the lack of a consistently dominant track record has me pegging him for a six-year, $153MM contract.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.