PHOENIX — Cole Hamels wants his 2019 option picked up and the Phillies will expect your top prospects for him. James Shields will be 33 in a few weeks and has a 5.46 postseason earned run average.
Shall we keep going? Justin Masterson might be better off in the bullpen. Francisco Liriano had a career 4.33 earned run average in the American League. Ervin Santana was below league average in two of his last three seasons and allowed 65 homers in his last two American League seasons.
But, wait, there’s more. Kenta Maeda, the latest Japanese sensation, weighs 160 pounds in his cleats and threw 1,303 1/3 innings in his first seven seasons in Japan. Trade for Johnny Cueto, Andrew Cashner or another NL pitcher? Hope they survive those AL East parks.
Finding two starting pitchers for the 2015 Red Sox isn’t a linear path. Risks abound and the cost will be high. As prepared as the Sox hope they are, they really can’t know how any one these guys would fit in Boston, never mind two.
So here’s the solution: Admit you were wrong and sign Jon Lester.
And don’t mess around. Call the Levinson brothers today, ask them what it will take to sign their client and negotiate a fair market deal. Try for five years and $125 million and add on a sixth year with a vesting option if needed.
Make it clear to your fans, your players and other free agents that the Sox are back in championship mode.
Recruit Lester if you have to. Send flowers to his wife, who was plenty ticked off her husband was unceremoniously shipped out of town less than a year after he delivered a championship. Have Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz make calls. Give the big lefty a case of shotgun shells or Duck Dynasty DVDs for Christmas. Beg like Joliet Jake Blues to Carrie Fisher.
If the Red Sox are indeed serious about contending in 2015, they need Lester. If they mean what they say about developing players and rewarding hard work, they need to own up to their mistake and bring Lester back.
Prove to Henry Owens, Brian Johnson and all those wonderful, can’t-miss, super-fantastic prospects that pitching for the Red Sox means something more than getting to the wrong age and getting traded for a year and a half of Yoenis “No thanks, I’m Not Interested In Right Field” Cespedes.
The Red Sox spent $142 million on Carl Crawford and $154 million on Adrian Gonzalez a few years ago and got burned. It’s understandable they’re reticent about nine-figure contracts.
But recent history shows the best Red Sox teams had aces they could count on:
• 2004: Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling. They gave the Red Sox 443 2/3 innings and a 3.57 ERA in the regular season. The Sox went 7-2 in the games they pitched in the postseason.
• 2007: Josh Beckett. He was a killer, going 20-7, 3.41 in the regular season then 4-0 in the playoffs.
• 2013: Lester, John Lackey: They combined on 402 2/3 innings and a 3.64 ERA in the regular season. Lester was 4-1, 1.56 in the postseason and Lackey 3-1 with a 2.77 ERA.
Lester gives the Red Sox their best chance of winning again next season. He is healthy, he clearly responds well to John Farrell and in his way, he had become a leader of the team.
When spring training starts, Farrell should be able to gather up the pitching prospects, point at Lester and say, “Go do what that guy does.”
Hamels is plenty good. But Lester for $144 million and six years is far better than Hamels at five years for $110 million and three top prospects.
Lester, somebody else, Clay Buchholz, Joe Kelly and one of the kids isn’t a perfect rotation. But it’s one you can be reasonably sure will compete. It’s one that will sell tickets.
The Sox drafted and developed Lester. They agonized when he had cancer and celebrated when he beat it. They watched him win two World Series. They saw him stumble and get back up. If he’s not worth the risk, who is?
This off-season is perilous for the Red Sox as it stands today. Sign Lester and that changes. For now, it’s not too late.
Correction: The collective record of Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling in the 2004 playoffs was mis-stated in an earlier version. They went 7-2, not 7-1.