Player Profile: Jon Lester is the unquestioned ace of the Red Sox rotation and really has been since the 2008 season, when he first passed former ace Josh Beckett in terms of production. It is a role the Red Sox organization had prepared Lester to grow into from his minor league days and he has responded quite well. Despite a rocky and disappointing 2012 season Lester has been everything you want and need in a number one starter. The innings eating capability, good health and bulldog mentality are givens with this player.
2013 Season and Recent History: Lester got off to a fast start then had several rocky starts in mid-season but really seemed to find himself after the All-Star break. The end result was a very solid 15-8 with a 3.75 ERA and 1.294 WHIP in 213.1 innings. These are numbers right in line with his career norms. In other words, a typical Lester-like season.
He really kicked things into gear in the postseason, where he had wins in each of the three playoff rounds, including wins in Games 1 and 5 of the World Series. In fact, his only loss was the hard-luck one he suffered in Game 1 of the ALCS when he was out dueled by Anibal Sanchez 1-0. Postseason is where he showed his true value to this team as a workhorse who could take his game to the next level.
2014 Outlook: Lester will be a free agent following the 2014 season unless he comes to an extension agreement at some point this spring or summer. At 29, he is in his prime earning years.
He has already signed a team friendly contract as young pitcher so the question is whether he will be willing to do so again. If he is looking to cash out at max market value, don’t expect the Red Sox, with such a promising stable of arms at Pawtucket, to be desperate to keep him. It’s not how this organization does business at this point. See: Ellsbury, Jacoby.
Having said that, both Lester and management want this relationship to continue so look for the sides to announce an equitable extension that satisfies both parties at some point in the next few months. As much pitching as the team may have coming in the future, there is no guarantee they have a guy that will give them the kind of work Lester has in his time here.
Ben Cherington is smart enough to know this so it’s likely he finds a way to keep Lester happy and pitching in Fenway for the rest of his career. Anything short of that would be a surprise. And if it does happen money will be the root cause, as usual.
As for on the field in 2014? Expect another typical Lester year as long as his health is good. He seemed to figure out some things during his struggles last season. Namely that he can’t just use his fastball and cutter as his only two main pitches. He has learned to be more of a “pitcher” as opposed to a thrower.
All the great power pitchers learned to do it and went on to have long, successful careers. He’s given no one any reason to believe it will be any different for him in the future, health permitting.