SAN DIEGO —
The Sox have an army here, listening to all sorts of trade and free agent proposals. The action has been healthy on Yoenis Cespedes, Allen Craig, and certainly the players everybody wants — Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Blake Swihart, and Henry Owens.
The Sox were not only preparing for life after Lester, but life with Lester and the “other pieces” they need to make their 2015 work.
Cespedes becomes a chip in acquiring a middle-of-the-rotation starter. You’re not going to be able to make Cespedes-for-Lester in reverse, but before these meetings are over, the Mariners, Tigers, Reds, Padres, and Royals will have had a conversation with the Sox regarding Cespedes, with a pitcher going back to Boston.
We’ve all heard the names in play — David Price (who would be an ace and require an additional prospect) and Rick Porcello from the Tigers, Ian Kennedy from the Padres, Johnny Cueto (see Price), Mike Leake, and Mat Latos from Cincinnati, reliever Wade Davis from Kansas City, free agent James Shields. And on and on.
“We need to build a rotation and we need to be in on all sorts of stuff and we have been in all sorts of stuff,” general manager Ben Cherington said. “There’s probably 15-20 starting pitching scenarios we’ve talked about and worked on. Not all of those are going to land, more won’t than will. But we’re working as hard as we can. We’re going to build a good rotation.”
And Cherington said he’s not shying away from pitchers who are in the final years of their contracts .
“There are a lot in that category and I don’t think negotiating with one is a prerequisite to a deal,” Cherington said. “You have to value each situation. Even within that group there’s a range of talent and performance. There’s front-of-the-rotation guys, and that’s a different category. I think there can be real value in a guy who’s not signed long term if they fit into the rotation. It gives you a chance to get to know them and see if he does fit. That group and free agent group and trades, we’re sort of looking at all of those categories. I don’t think we need a negotiating window.”
Is anything close? “We’ve advanced some conversations, but we’re still in work phase — put it all in a bowl and mix it up with cost and look where we’re at. We have high-end [i.e. young] pitching coming, so if there are guys who get us to those guys, there’s value in that, too,” he said.
So in other words, Cherington isn’t waiting around for Lester.
If he lands him great; one less thing to worry about.
“I think our fans expect us to deliver on the field and win games,” he said. “In order for us to give the best chance we have to add to the pitching staff. There are all sorts of ways to do that. Of course there’s a connection to certain players more than others. But ultimately they care about the people we put on the field.”
Cherington said as he wades through the possibilities, he has to do “what makes sense. We’re still working that.”
The GM tackled the offense early in free agency and signed Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez in bold moves, spending about $180 million in the process. But there’s plenty where that came from.
You can argue until the cows come home whether the Sox blew it by not offering Lester a higher amount in their initial offer. But as Cherington reiterated when asked about the low-ball offer, he said the Sox did want to re-engage with Lester and after that the pitcher said he wouldn’t negotiate.
The Sox certainly have tried to repair whatever ill will that caused. In the end they place a value on each player. When that value gets to the point at which they won’t cross over a line, they walk away. They just did it with Andrew Miller, a pitcher they really wanted back, but paying an annual average value of $9 million was about a million dollars a year more than they thought they should spend on him.
They already have exceeded that value with Lester, with estimates their offer may be in the upper $130 millions .
A visit to Georgia by owner John Henry apparently didn’t convince Lester to sign back with Boston right then and there, so the Cubs and Giants remain in the hunt. The Dodgers are apparently out, and there were rumors Monday night the Yankees are lurking.
“I was confident at the beginning of the offseason and I’m more confident now that we’re going to be able to add pitching and have good pitching staff,” Cherington said.
“There’s a lot of information and jockeying and positioning and leverage.
“We’re testing what teams’ point of pain is. We have some established guys, and we have young pitching that we’d hold up against any organization in baseball.
“In most deals, free agent or trade, the last call is you rarely do a deal without that [pain]. You have to cross that threshold. You have to go a little past to get something. But that’s different than doing something that doesn’t make sense.”
So there is a price that won’t make sense on Lester. There will be a price that won’t make sense for the next free agent pursuit, or regarding players in a trade scenario.
You can build a good team, a good rotation, without Jon Lester. And if that’s what happens, we’re all going to find out whether Cherington can pull it off.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.