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Beat writer’s notebook

Jon Lester’s value goes beyond pitching

Jul 15, 2014; Leadership is an underrated aspect of Jon Lester’s cachet, something that should be weighed during contract negotiations. Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

Scott Rovak/USA Today Sports

Leadership is an underrated aspect of Jon Lester’s cachet, something that should be weighed during contract negotiations.

Here’s another reason the Red Sox should sign Jon Lester: How well Lester has handled the Red Sox not yet signing him.

It was six months ago that Lester was in Boston for an off-season event and told a group of reporters that he was determined to stay with the Red Sox and would sign at a discount.

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It was a message he repeated at the start of spring training.

Yet the Red Sox have squandered this opportunity, making a low-ball offer in March that served only to delay the process. Now, with every day that passes, Lester draws closer to free agency and the inevitability that that he signs with the Yankees.

But at every step along the path, Lester has done everything exactly the right way. He has pitched well and shown leadership in the clubhouse at a time when the Red Sox needed it. He also has answered every question about his situation in measured tones and never once lashed out.

There have been three or four occasions this year when news about the negotiations broke. As team officials passed on commenting, Lester stood in front of his locker and defused the situation.

An executive with the MLB Players Association, unprompted, said in Minneapolis a few days ago that Lester has been a model for how to handle such things.

On Thursday, Lester hosted his annual NVRQT event to raise funds for the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation. An assortment of teammates, from David Ortiz to a cowboy hat-wearing John Lackey, showed up on the final day of their break. It was a testament to the respect Lester commands within the framework of the team.

You may not think this sort of thing means much. Contracts should be about the team projecting what makes the most sense financially and making a bloodless determination of a player’s worth.

But in markets such as Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, personality comes into play. The Red Sox botched the signing of Carl Crawford because he wasn’t emotionally equipped to play in a place where so many people cared. The same was true of Adrian Gonzalez, a terrific player who constantly complained during his tenure in Boston.

Lester is a proven commodity in that regard and that means something, or at least it should. Being able to succeed in this market, both regular season and postseason, isn’t easy.

Lester doesn’t much like the media and he’s not the kind of person who seeks attention. There were missteps along the way, too. He was embroiled in the chicken-and-beer fiasco in 2011 and he once was far too petulant on the mound, staring at umpires after what he thought were bad calls.

But that has changed in the last two years. Lester has come to accept that being an accomplished player requires him to show leadership internally and externally. His comportment on the mound has improved dramatically and he has learned to laugh at the many stupid questions he gets instead of glowering. The more you get to know Lester, or the more he has allowed us to get to know, he’s actually pretty funny.

Again, none of these are reasons to add another $10 million to his contract. But they are reasons that need to be weighed. The Red Sox know what kind of person Lester is and they know how he will represent their organization. They do not know that about any of his potential replacements, not even their own prospects.

In the end, this deal will get done because it makes sense for everybody. But Lester’s patience will have a breaking point and it seems foolish to test that.

A few other observations:

  It’s hard to find power, especially righthanded power. But the Red Sox may be running out of opportunities for Will Middlebrooks. Xander Bogaerts looks locked in at third base and there’s now a wide assortment of outfielders available with Shane Victorino seemingly close to returning. Middlebrooks doesn’t have much value at the moment given his injuries and earlier poor performance. But his best value to the organization now might be as a trade chip.

  Brock Holt has been arguably the most valuable position player on the roster. His best defensive position is probably second base but the Red Sox have no room for him there. If Mookie Betts ends up in left field, which is the guess here, where does Holt go?

  It’s funny how for a last-place team, the Red Sox have a problem getting so many good players into the lineup.

  The Red Sox have a lower ERA and WHIP after 95 games than they did last year. But they have scored an astonishing 129 fewer runs.

  If the Orioles play .500 the rest of the way, they’ll win 86 games. The Red Sox would have to go 43-24 to catch them. The Sox should not announce they’re giving up, obviously. But the trade deadline should reflect reality and the reality is they’re not making the playoffs. There are seven teams between the Sox and the second wild card.

  Per Baseball-Reference.com, Jacoby Ellsbury has a 1.8 WAR and Jackie Bradley Jr. has a 1.5. Ellsbury is making $21,142,857 this season and Bradley $502,000. Ellsbury is a better player right now but the intersection of their value on the field is drawing closer.

  If Bogaerts goes another week without hitting, how long can the Red Sox keep pretending everything is fine? Because everything is not fine. He is hitting .103/.140/.131 since June 6.

  Based on his sporadic playing time, Betts looks like the odd man out when Victorino returns unless the Red Sox find a taker for Jonny Gomes or Mike Carp.

  Red Sox assistant GM Mike Hazen would be a great choice as Padres GM. But the news that San Diego could bring Kevin Towers back as a senior adviser must be troubling to the candidates. Any new GM needs the space to construct the team with his model and not have to worry about outside influences.

  Matt Kemp may ask for a trade but the Red Sox should not take that call. Kemp has hit .269/.329/.414 the last two seasons and is not the same player he once was athletically because of injuries. He also has an astonishing $107 million left on his deal starting in 2015. Kemp’s attitude was an issue in the past and his decline years will be a mess. Pass.

  Red Sox third base coach Brian Butterfield and first base coach Arnie Beyeler were minor league coaches with the Yankees earlier in their careers and both know Derek Jeter well. Both were thrilled to be back on his side, if only for a night, at the All-Star Game.

Beyeler walked up to Jeter in Monday and simply thanked him.

“That part, being around those guys, meant a lot to me,” Jeter said.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.
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