SAN DIEGO — I bumped into Bud Selig in the lobby of the Manchester Grand Hyatt lobby at high noon Monday, and the outgoing baseball commissioner had one question for a man from Boston.
“Hey, are the Red Sox going to sign Jon Lester?’’ asked Selig. “I’ve just come from a meeting of all the general managers and no one knows anything.’’
No one knows anything. That is the only thing we know until Lester finally makes his decision.
The Sox don’t know. The Cubs don’t know. The Giants don’t know. The Dodgers and Braves don’t know. The lurking Yankees don’t know. And the ancient commissioner — the man who orchestrated the sale of the Red Sox to John Henry’s group in 2001 — doesn’t know.
Only Lester and his agents, Sam and Seth Levinson, know where the white-hot lefty is taking his talents for the next six or seven seasons.
There is plenty of buzz and beer here in the grand lobby of the Manchester Grand, but thus far all the big deals seem to be on hold. Nothing really happens until Lester decides.
The Red Sox thought they had their erstwhile ace back in the fold when Henry (also the owner of the Globe) made his personal visit to Lester’s Georgia home last Friday. But the Cubs are not going away. And the Giants are still in this. Lester’s agents lingered with the Giants folks long into the night after the Patriots beat the Chargers here Sunday.
As one who has been wrong millions of times, let me state again that I do not believe the Red Sox will sign Lester. I think they will draw their line at six years and $138 million and I think the Cubs and maybe the Giants will shoot past that line. The desperate Cubs might even be willing to go to seven years.
In my view, the Sox bungled this when they didn’t take care of business last spring and insulted their ace with a noncompetitive offer ($70 million, in the same spring in which the Tigers were offering their ace $144 million). Then we had the ugly summer of 2014 and the trading of Lester and that awkward “I know it was you, Fredo,’’ parking lot, farewell hug between Henry and Lester.
That was the day the hometown discount went out the door. Lester has since sold his Newton house and is likely insulted by the Sox’ ham-handed efforts to exploit his loyalty and remind him how lucky he’d be to finish his career with the Red Sox.
Now Lester has all the leverage and I believe the Sox are unwilling to go where this is headed. To their credit, the Sox have junked their arrogant “philosophy” and agreed to commit to six years on a pitcher over 30, but they still have their limits, and now they get to tell their fans that Lester was not sincere about his “hometown discount” offer.
The Cubs can’t afford to lose this one. Theo Epstein is in Year 4 of his six-year plan, and the Cubbies have been a disaster. Now that Joe Maddon has been hired to manage and a raft of alleged farm talent is big-league-ready, the Cubs need to make a splash and spend stupid money for Lester. And in the continuation of their Biblical revenge game, Epstein needs to get the better of Larry Lucchino.
The Giants make sense for Lester because they offer the best manager (luggage-head Bruce Bochy), the best general manager (Brian Sabean), the best ballpark, and the best city. They also have a roster of Southern boys, including one Buster and two Hunters. Lester is from greater Seattle, but his wife is from Georgia and he actually developed a Southern accent while working with Texans Josh Beckett, John Lackey, and Clay Buchholz.
One caveat with the Giants: They believe the Dodgers might be bidding on Lester just to jack up the price for San Francisco. With three championships in five seasons, the Giants do not have to play this game.
The Yankees’ silence continues to amaze everyone. Lester simply makes too much sense for the Bronx Bombers. He’s lefthanded, never misses a start, and has demonstrated that he can win in the American League East. I’m beginning to think the Steinbrenner boys are pondering selling their team in a few years and no longer want to be strapped with hundred-million-dollar contracts that extend toward 2020.
Lester might sign with the Cubs, he might sign with the Giants or . . . the Sox brass might throw out all their rules and Lester might sign with Boston. But I doubt it.
Whatever happens, it needs to happen soon. So we can all get on with our lives and the Red Sox can go back to work assembling a pitching staff for 2015.
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org