FORT MYERS – The Red Sox proved willing to set the market for David Price in a way they hadn’t for Jon Lester. With Lester, the team held the line with a six-year, $135 million offer that was $20 million less than what the Cubs offered. With Price, the Sox upped their bid to outpace the field by $37 million – just over 20 percent beyond the $180 million that was on the table from the Cardinals – to close out a deal.
That dynamic, of course, made it natural to assume there might be tension between the pitchers, or that Lester might betray a sense of dismay that the Sox had treated another pitcher differently than they’d treated him. That assumption couldn’t be further from the reality of how Lester viewed the situation, or how the pitchers viewed each other.
As Price prepared for and went through the free agent process that eventually resulted in his seven-year, $217 million deal with the Red Sox, he sought counsel from a broad group of colleagues. As he did his due diligence, it was only natural that Price sought the advice of Lester, an elite lefthanded pitcher with a long track record of success in the American League East.
“I’d talked to him throughout the year last year, just about everything. Once I signed here, he was nothing but happy for me,” said Price. “He was extremely happy for me. He said, ‘If you need anything in the city, if you need help with anything, I know a lot of people out there.’ That was extremely nice of him. It was something he didn’t have to do. He could have simply said congratulations and left it at that, but he lent a helping hand. I was very appreciative.”
For his part, Lester was elated to see a respected longtime rival get rewarded for his body of work. He told Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times that when he learned of Price’s deal, he was thrilled for the lefty and didn’t feel any whiff of resentment toward his former organization.
“Everybody has emotions and feelings and loyalty towards certain organizations, and obviously that one is special and unique to me,” said Lester, a second-round pick of the Sox in 2002, who survived a 2006 cancer diagnosis and lengthy treatment to eventually pitch in two World Series for the team. “I’ll always hold those things high in my career and obviously personally with my family. Both my kids were born there.
“There’s no hard feelings by any means with those people. I still talk to [Red Sox manager] John Farrell. They were a big part of my life. And I’m always grateful for what they did for me, especially back in ’06, ’07.”
In many ways, Lester represented a trailblazer for Price. As Price was starting his professional career with the Rays, Lester was emerging as a force for the Red Sox, a young lefthanded pitcher whose stuff was good enough to thrive even in the daunting American League East. That Lester achieved such prominence after being treated for cancer elevated his status even further in Price’s eyes.
“I watched Lester when I was in the minor leagues and in college,” said Price, the No. 1 overall pick by Tampa Bay in the 2007 draft. “I’d heard what he’d went through, the battles he’d had. For him to be able to fight through that, to get back to pitching at an elite level, I really think that’s a testament to his character, his drive, and how bad he wanted to do what he’s doing. He did what he needed to do, got back up there, and he established himself as one of the best lefthanded pitchers in the game. That’s pretty special.”
The mutual admiration of the two only grew as they were career-long competitors in the American League East until both were dealt out of the division at the 2014 trade deadline. Starting in the 2008 season, Lester had 99 wins, a 3.53 ERA, and performed at a level that was 28.2 Wins Above Replacement level (as calculated by Baseball-Reference.com) before being traded to Oakland; Price had 91 wins with a 22.7 WAR and 3.13 ERA during his time with the Rays and Blue Jays in that period.
Over that same time, only one other pitcher (CC Sabathia, 22.5) posted a WAR above 20.0 while residing in the Americna League East. No other pitcher had an ERA that low (in at least 700 innings pitched – meaning roughly half the workload of Lester and Price) while a member of baseball’s toughest division. What Price and Lester accomplished over a lengthy period thus separated them.
|Jon Lester||Red Sox||1375||99-61||3.53||28.2|
|David Price||Rays, Blue Jays||1218||91-48||3.13||22.7|
|Clay Buchholz||Red Sox||1005.1||70-50||3.90||14.6|
|Josh Beckett||Red Sox||834.2||53-40||4.17||13.5|
|Ricky Romero||Blue Jays||801.1||51-45||4.16||9.9|
|A.J. Burnett||Blue Jays, Yankees||805.1||52-45||4.59||6.8|
|John Lackey||Red Sox||701.2||47-43||4.46||4|
“I’m definitely very comfortable in the AL East,” said Price. “It’s not the ideal ballparks you want to pitch in – I completely understand that. I remember talking about that in 2010 or 2011, earlier in my career, when the AL East was extremely, extremely tough with all the lineups you had to face. I felt like that helped prepare me for everything else. You don’t have that start where you’re like, ‘Thank God I’m facing these guys this week.’ That doesn’t happen. You have to make sure you stay on your game every five days. As tough as it was, it was definitely a blessing early in my career.”
In some ways, Price can appreciate Lester’s accomplishments while in Boston over the last several years as much if not more than any other pitcher. And now, he hopes that after following Lester’s path through free agency, he’s able to mirror another marker of the pitcher’s career success.
“I heard it in years prior, and I heard it while I was going through free agency. Boston is one of the toughest places to play and perform, but it’s hands down the best place to win,” said Price. “Lester was a part of championships. That’s something I definitely want to be a part of. I want to be available every fifth day for this team, help this team win, get to the postseason, and be the last team standing.”
If that happens, then perhaps Price will receive another congratulatory text from a pitcher who can relate to him like few others.
Follow Alex Speier on Twitter at @alexspeier.