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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Red Sox must not be outbid for Jon Lester — no excuses

Boston fans deserve to see Jon Lester back in Red Sox colors.
Boston fans deserve to see Jon Lester back in Red Sox colors.Jared Wickersham/Getty/Getty

The Red Sox have made an offer to Jon Lester. According to someone who was there, the entire Sox brass met with Lester and his agents in Atlanta last week and pitched a six-year deal in the $110 million-$120 million ballpark.

Unfortunately, that’s probably not going to get it done. The Sox need to go big or go home. No spin. The bid they’ve made is a huge pile of money, but it’s likely to be less than what the Cubs and Yankees are willing to do.

Nothing says the Sox can’t improve their proposal, but if they wind up getting outbid by the Cubs or Yankees, they CANNOT tell their fans, “Jon told you he would give us a hometown discount, but in the end, he went for the most money.’’

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If the Sox are serious, they need to trump all other offers. Tell Lester they will pay him more than the Cubs, Yankees, Braves, or Cardinals.

You probably know the history. In a spring training interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, principal Sox owner John Henry (who also owns the Globe and pays top dollar), citing a study pertaining to the costs of signing players over 30 to long-term deals, said, “The most important thing this study shows is that virtually all of the underpaid players are under 30 and virtually all the overpaid players are over 30.

“Yet teams continue to extravagantly overpay for players above the age of 30 . . . We haven’t participated in this latest feeding frenzy of bidding up stars.’’

Comparing baseball deals to big finance trading, Henry added, “The big trades we made money on, a lot of them didn’t make sense. The same thing is true in baseball: fans often won’t like what turn out to be the best moves.

“If you’re a baseball fan and your [general manager] makes a trade that everybody loves, it’s probably not going to turn out well over the long term. It’s the same thing in trading. What looks good on the surface, below the surface often doesn’t look good.’’

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Now, hopefully, this philosophy is out the window. If that’s true, this is great news for Red Sox fans. It’s encouraging to see that the ball club has junked the rigid thinking. It’s OK to say that Lester is an exception. It made sense a year ago and it makes sense now. We promise not to bash them for changing their minds, especially in light of what happened last season and the dearth of pitching on the market.

But the Sox need to stop being Patriot-like here. It’s not about “getting a deal.’’ It’s not about beating the system. It’s about being competitive in the marketplace. It’s about rewarding the player and your fans by paying your proven player more than any other team will pay him.

Henry (back from a trip to Dubai 10 days ago), president Larry Lucchino, and COO Sam Kennedy flew to Kansas City Wednesday morning for baseball owners meetings and were scheduled to meet with outgoing commissioner Bud Selig Wednesday night. E-mails to the Sox bosses yielded no response. They plan to return to Boston Thursday.

Meanwhile, the hot stove simmers. The Sox need to make some moves. They need to spend some money. They just finished in last place for the second time in three years. The last time the Sox finished in the basement twice in three years was in 1930-32, pre-Tom Yawkey.

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The fluke championship of 2013 has artificially inflated the Sox’ sense of business, and enabled them to exploit the limits of fan loyalty. But now it is time to pay up. The Red Sox have the money. And they have too many holes to be taken seriously, even in a tomato-canesque AL East.

It’s time to be competitive. It’s time to be the old Red Sox and blow other teams out of the water. They can afford it. They need to stop feeling burned by Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez.

Lester’s agents told reporters that the Red Sox showed “great respect” to their client.

Swell. But the opening bid for Lester is not enough. There’s no draft pick at stake here. The Sox don’t have to part with players, as they would in a deal for Cole Hamels. They already acknowledged it’s OK to commit beyond five years to a pitcher over 30. And they know that Lester can pitch in the AL East and win the big games. They know he is durable.

They are in the business of winning baseball games, and Jon Lester is good for that business. The dismal 2014 season demonstrated that Boston doesn’t have enough starting pitching to compete. Lester is a known commodity. Getting outbid is unacceptable.

When the Sox traded Lester July 31, he and Henry engaged in an awkward man-hug in the players’ parking lot at Fenway Park. It looked like a “I know it was you Fredo, you broke my heart” moment, but Lester said, “He told me, ‘You’re a Red Sox forever.’ ”

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We’ll see. Thus far, the Sox are coming up short again.

Don’t blame the player if he takes a higher offer. The Red Sox are in position to outbid other teams for a player they need, a player they know. Time to go big or go home.

More coverage of the MLB offseason:

Red Sox make offers to Jon Lester, Pablo Sandoval

Cafardo: With Sandoval in town, Sox should make their move

Rotation is main priority of Red Sox’ offseason

Stanton signs record $325m deal with Marlins

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Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Shaughnessy.