Lester/Sox negotiations on hold - where's the loyalty?

Jim Monaghan
Contributing writer

Jon Lester (photo courtesy ESPN)
One of the most-watched items of Red Sox off season and 2014 Spring Training was the negotiations between the team and pitcher Jon Lester. A "home-grown" product of the Boston farm system, Lester is regarded as one of the top left-handed pitchers in the game and his ability to step up in big games - punctuated by a 3-0 career record in World Series games with a 0.43 earned run average - only stands to make him even more coveted by teams should he be allowed to his free agency at the end of this season when his current contract expires.

Dustin Pedroia (photo courtesy WEEI)
During the off-season, Lester made some comments that indicated he would be willing to take a Dustin Pedroia-like deal (they share the same agent) with the team, including his desire to play for the Red Sox "until they rip this jersey off my back," adding that "If we can get to something hopefully in Spring Training, that's awesome. I want to stay here."

Predictably, fan reaction was positive. Just the idea that a player would acknowledge that he might be willing to forego top dollar plays right into the sentiments of many fans who simply cannot comprehend that someone who is one of only 750 in his entire field might be able to command an eight-figure annual salary. The "L" word, loyalty, started being tossed around. Lester, in the eyes of some fans, was being loyal to the only organization he had ever played for.

Over the past couple of weeks, Lester's tune seemed to change though it still appeared he was in favor of working out a deal that appeased both player and team, even as Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Max Scherzer reportedly rejected a contract offer that would have made him one of the highest-paid pitchers in the game.

David Ortiz & Ben Cherington (photo courtesy AP)
Both sides said they wanted a multi-year deal for Lester worked out before Opening Day and once the David Ortiz contract extension was announced last week, signing Lester seemed to be just a formality. That all changed with the news on Saturday March 29 that both Lester and the Red Sox were announcing they had "hit the pause button" on talks.


Fans talk about it all the time...how players are no longer loyal...how it's only about the money. Pedroia earned the predictable thumbs up from fans with his now-famous "I'm rich as f$&#" reply to someone who asked him if he felt he was underpaid in the wake of the contract former Yankee Robinson Cano signed with the Seattle Mariners. But who exactly is Jon Lester supposed to be loyal to?

Make no mistake here - Jon Lester is a very wealthy young man having been paid handsomely to this point by the organization that drafted and developed him. Not forgotten is how the team supported him during his fight with cancer early in his career. Assuming he's been smart with his money, Lester will never have to work another day in his life. For that matter, it's probably safe to say that a couple of generations of Lesters are most likely financially set for life. In that sense, would it be safe to say that the team has already shown a semblance of loyalty to Lester?

For his part, Lester has been a mainstay of the Red Sox rotation since 2008 winning at least 15 games in five of the last six seasons. So again, who exactly is Lester supposed to be loyal to? There are some who would say the team. That would be the same team that tried to trade him to the Texas Rangers in the ill-fated Alex Rodriguez deal prior to the 2004 season. And that would also be the same team that tried to trade him to the Minnesota Twins for Johan Santana in 2007.

The bottom line on this whole "loyalty" thing is just that - the bottom line. There is NO loyalty from team to player, or player to team other than both sides living up to their respective obligations as defined by the contract signed between the two. And I would argue that with limited exceptions, there really never has been. It's all a business decision...on the part of both team and player.

When Robinson Cano signed with the Mariners, that was a business decision by him, even factoring in how much he stood to make in endorsements simply by being a high-profile member of the Yankees. For Cano, the Seattle dollars combined with the length of the contract were enough to turn the Yankees down. For New York's part, they weren't willing to pay what Cano wanted even taking into consideration his left-handed swing in Yankee Stadium. When Jacoby Ellsbury inked his contract with the Yankees, that represented business decisions made by him (going for top dollar), the Yankees (they needed someone with Ellsbury's skill set) and the Red Sox (they were willing to let that same skill set go feeling that Jackie Bradley Jr. is ultimately going to be a cheaper alternative). Even the contract Dustin Pedroia signed - and it does appear that he is now underpaid by current standards - was a business decision. Was Pedey being loyal to the Red Sox? My feeling is that he and his agent weighed the options of what they thought he might make on the open market versus what the Sox offered and made the business decision to stay in Boston. And yes, Pedey IS "rich as f$&#" by our standards, so you'll excuse those who feel he's not exactly living near the poverty level.

Jon Lester may very well sign a multi-year extension at some point this year. And it may very well be for a dollar amount that is less than what he might make on the open market following the 2014 season. If indeed that does happen, know that it was a business decision made by Lester based upon what he feels is best for him and his family.

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