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Red Sox chose to hold on to Lester

Jon Lester threw a pitch in the first inning of Thursday’s game at Kansas City.

Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Jon Lester threw a pitch in the first inning of Thursday’s game at Kansas City.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In retrospect, would you have done it?

Would you have traded Jon Lester for Wil Myers? It was discussed but “not anything I would classify as close,” said a source involved in the discussions.

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Obviously if you knew now what you didn’t know then, you might have thought even harder about it. Think about it, what do the Red Sox need more than anything right now? A power-hitting righthanded bat. Myers, eventually dealt by the Royals to the Rays in the James Shields deal, could be the American League Rookie of the Year.

When preliminary talks were taking place between the Sox and Royals in November, Boston was coming off a 69-win season and starting pitching was its biggest need.

Lester, who is 10-7 with a 4.37 ERA after absorbing a 5-1 loss to the Royals Thursday night, had vowed he’d return to form as the staff ace. If it wasn’t for a hot start by Lester, who knows if the Sox would be in the position they’re in right now.

Lester’s season has been up and down. He only looks like an ace on some occasions. Last night he gave up three runs in the first — only one earned — then threw six scoreless innings.

Myers has been a force for the Rays with eight homers and 30 RBIs, a .335 average, and .918 OPS in 156 at-bats. He looks like a young Dale Murphy.

Another issue is will the Sox be able to re-sign Lester to a long-term deal after his current pact runs out after next season? Do they want to commit big dollars knowing they have a plethora of young starters coming through the ranks?

Kansas City was looking for an ace. Lester and Shields were the targets. The Rays also traded Wade Davis and Elliot Johnson in the deal and got back Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery, and Patrick Leonard.

Myers, the 2012 minor league player of the year, started slowly in spring training and wasn’t called up until late May.

According to local media here, Royals fans still tweet, blog, and e-mail that the Royals made a mistake every time Myers does something big. They feel Shields is a temporary fix. He has been precisely what the Royals felt they needed — an experienced pitcher who could change the culture and be the leader of the rotation.

He has given them the “attitude” they were seeking. Like Lester, Shields can be a free agent after next season and the Royals have a decision to make. It may be tough to let Shields walk considering they gave up a potential superstar in Myers to acquire him.

Did the Sox miss the boat?

At the time they knew they had Jackie Bradley Jr. on the rise. What they didn’t have is that righthanded power threat, though Xander Bogaerts could eventually be that guy. It’s always hard to deal an established pitcher for a young hitter. Myers didn’t project to be Giancarlo Stanton for instance, but he sure projected to be a good hitter.

Could the Sox have gotten by without Lester this season? That’s debatable. Perhaps they could have, but again, don’t underestimate Lester’s importance to start the season. His performance, coupled with Clay Buchholz’s, got Boston off to a 20-8 start. John Farrell’s club has been able to play outstanding ball even with Buchholz on the shelf since June 8 and Lester being inconsistent.

Royals manager Ned Yost would have loved Lester, whom he speaks very highly of. Lester and Yost have abutting farms in Georgia.

“The same guy who takes care of my farm takes care of Jon’s,’’ said Yost. “He’s a great competitor. I’ve always enjoyed watching him compete.”

At the time of the talks, Lester was coming off his worst season in the majors.

He went 9-14 with a career-worst 4.82 ERA, a career high in homers allowed (25), and his lowest strikeout rate (7.3 per nine innings) in four years. He couldn’t find his mechanics most of the time and his velocity kept declining. The Sox are paying him $11.625 million this season and they hold a $13 million option for 2014. So they must decide, do they pay him the going ace rate of at least $20 million per season for 5-7 years?

General manager Ben Cherington thought Lester would rebound, especially under Farrell. And he was right for the start of the season.

The Sox knew they had pitching depth, so if they had traded for Myers, could you blame them? But there was a great need to keep Lester, who is under their control through 2014, even though hitters such as Myers are tough to come by.

Myers hit 37 homers in 134 games at Double A and Triple A last season.

One thing lost here is if Will Middlebrooks had continued his upward trend from last season, there might not be a need to second-guess on Myers. But Middlebrooks has had a lost season, leaving the Sox void of some righthanded power.

Myers looks like the real deal, but as we’ve seen with Middlebrooks, in order to properly evaluate a young hitter, you have to see how he comes out of his struggles. We haven’t seen the other side of the struggling Middlebrooks yet because he remains at Triple A. Myers hasn’t had a big slump. He may be like his teammate, Evan Longoria, and keep getting better without the struggle.

It was an interesting proposal then and many months later, we wonder whether the deal the Rays made with the Royals was the deal the Sox should have made.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.
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