Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, and the extension debate


Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Aside from Max Scherzer winning the Cy Young last season and being widely considered one of the best pitchers in baseball, he and Red Sox icon Jon Lester have quite a bit in common. Not only were they their respective team’s starters in last night’s 1-0 Tigers’ win in a pitching duel, this season is also their contract year. But the similarities don’t end there; they also each received contract extension offers from their respective teams, declined those extensions, and in both cases, declining them is looking like a good move.

This winter, Jon Lester famously said that he would accept a discount to remain in Boston. For much of the offseason, the question was how soon the Red Sox would lock Lester up as opposed to if they would lock him up. However, the extension never came. The Red Sox took that discount for granted and lowballed Lester, offering him a four-year contract in the neighborhood of $70MM. Obviously, Lester did not accept that offer, and negotiations have reportedly ceased between the two parties.

Lowballing a deal wasn’t a problem with Scherzer’s extension offer, however. Yes, Scherzer was coming off of a Cy Young Award. However, the 21-3 record, 2.90 ERA, and 2.4 BB/9 were all career bests for Scherzer and didn’t look as repeatable as could be hoped for. Considering that, the six-year, $144MM contract extension that the Tigers offered Scherzer looks pretty good. However, recognizing that he could probably earn a larger contract on the open market (if he continued his performance), he declined that sizable extension.

For both Scherzer and Lester, declining those extensions seems like a pretty good move right about now. Scherzer and Lester have been arguably the two best pitchers in the American League this season. Respectively, they are #1 and #2 in K/9, #5 and #4 in xFIP, and #8 and #1 in WAR in the American League, putting each pitcher in elite territory.

Both pitchers may still find their way back to Detroit and Boston, respectively. However, it won’t be for cheap. Lester’s supposed “discount” will now likely be considerably higher now (or at the end of the season should he continue his performance) than it was last offseason. And Scherzer’s somewhat reasonable contract is now looking like a lowball as Scherzer is more than repeating his Cy Young form of 2013. Hopefully the Red Sox will be able to keep Lester in tow, but it no longer seems like a certainty.