Jon Lester should feel good about himself and Boston.
The majority of Red Sox fans want him back. They would have had Lester signed first, before Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, but that’s not the order of business in major league baseball right now. Hitters are going first. Big-ticket pitchers next.
Red Sox principal owner John Henry (who also owns the Globe), chairman Tom Werner, president Larry Lucchino, and COO Sam Kennedy visited Lester in Atlanta and made an offer in the $120 million range for six years.
We also know the following:
■ The Chicago Cubs reportedly have offered Lester a deal north of $135 million for six years. The Cubs are trying to secure a No. 1 pitcher to begin their climb to contention, which should take two years.
Lester, so familiar to Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, Jason McLeod, and the other ex-Red Sox executives who brought him to the majors in Boston (though he was drafted by David Chadd, now the scouting director of the Detroit Tigers), has to feel as if Chicago would be a home away from home. He would have a chance to go to a rising organization and perhaps be part of the franchise’s first championship in more than a century.
■ Lester met with Braves president of baseball operations John Hart in Atlanta a couple of weeks ago. Lester lives about a half-hour from Atlanta, so that part makes a lot of sense. What is not clear is whether the Braves can afford the contract.
There has been no offer made by the Braves, according to a major league source, but if they clear out more money by trading Justin Upton (they already dealt Jason Heyward to St. Louis), who knows? The Braves are intrigued by Lester because they always have built their teams around pitching.
■ The Cardinals are expected to visit with Lester after Thanksgiving. They are looking for a lefthanded co-ace to go with Adam Wainwright. The Cardinals have rid themselves of big contracts the past few years but apparently are willing to spend on another top-of-the-rotation starter, and they would love him to be lefthanded. The Cardinals also could be a bidder for Cole Hamels.
Lester certainly would feel comfortable in the atmosphere; St. Louis is a passionate baseball city but without the “crazy East Coast fan” element. It’s also a great organization with mostly homegrown players.
■ In San Francisco, losing out on Pablo Sandoval has made the Giants reconfigure their allocation of money. They were willing to pay Sandoval $95 million, but they don’t believe Chase Headley is that caliber of player.
A Lester/Madison Bumgarner combo would be pretty devastating, along with Tim Hudson and a comebacking Matt Cain. The Giants certainly have the resources to do it, and they never have shied away from giving out big contracts to pitchers (Cain and Tim Lincecum have them).
■ There is no sign that the Yankees are involved at this point, but who knows? A lefty at Yankee Stadium, perhaps someone to be their next Andy Pettitte, would be desirable.
The Yankees have four pitchers — CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova, and Masahiro Tanaka — who suffered injuries last year. They don’t know whether Hiroki Kuroda is coming back or retiring. And Brandon McCarthy, who pitched so well the second half of the season, is a free agent.
General manager Brian Cashman said last week that he’s not sure the Yankees will get into the high-stakes pitching market. He didn’t say no.
■ Toronto surprised me with the Russell Martin signing, a sign that the Blue Jays might be willing to spend some money this offseason. They have the catcher. They have the durable Mark Buehrle and veteran knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. They have young pitchers Marcus Stroman, Drew Hutchison, and Aaron Sanchez, veteran lefty J.A. Happ, and the recently acquired Marco Estrada (in the Adam Lind deal).
They need an ace. Lester provides that. And they probably could move Buehrle to make room for Lester.
There have been no visits planned to Toronto by Lester, but let’s see if the Jays try to round out their staff with a move of this caliber. They certainly need to offset Boston’s moves.
■ The Dodgers have not been identified as a team in the Lester hunt, but they could use another starter. They currently have Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dan Haren, and Juan Nicasio in the rotation. The Dodgers have the funds, and they have a new president of baseball operations in Andrew Friedman, who has seen Lester many times from his days in the AL East with Tampa Bay. Keep an eye on this one.
■ If the Tigers feel that it will cost too much to sign Max Scherzer, or that signing David Price to an extension will be too costly, then don’t be surprised if they turn to Lester.
There are a few factors Lester has to consider.
If comfort is important, he knows Boston makes him comfortable. The Cubs might be second in this regard. Lester respects Joe Maddon very much and speaks highly of him.
Most pitchers would rather pitch in the National League. No DH. Weaker lineups in general. So the Cubs, Braves, Dodgers, Cardinals, and Giants have that going for them.
If he wants the most money, the Yankees, Cubs, and Dodgers would be the best candidates.
If he wants a team that will contend, the Giants’ track record is hard to beat.
But Boston would still seem to be the front-runner.
The fact that ownership and management went to see Lester rather than the other way around was a good touch by the Red Sox. If there was any ill will after the four-year, $70 million offer they made last spring, maybe the edge was taken off that.
Asked if the Red Sox’ actions sent a signal to Lester, Henry said, “I guess the signal it sends is there’s never been a problem between Jon and the organization either way. He’s been a huge part of what we’ve accomplished here.”