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Lester is close on deal

Report says Red Sox offer 5 years, $30m

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / March 9, 2009
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FORT MYERS, Fla. - The pitcher has overcome cancer, won the clinching game of the World Series, thrown a no-hitter, and now reportedly is close to signing a contract extension that will keep him under the control of the Red Sox through the 2014 season. Jon Lester, according to a report by Yahoo! Sports and attributed to a "source close to the team," has agreed to a five-year, $30 million deal with a $13 million team option for 2014, pending a physical.

While Lester declined to confirm the extension as he left City of Palms Park at 3 p.m. yesterday, the lefthander did say talks between his agent, Josh Yates, and the Red Sox had intensified in recent days.

"I know that the past couple days have been pretty good," said Lester. "I think it's in the process of hopefully at some point getting done. I couldn't tell you when or what day."

When asked about the report, team president and chief executive officer Larry Lucchino said, "I cannot confirm or deny" it. General manager Theo Epstein issued a "no comment" while walking through the clubhouse after yesterday's 8-2 exhibition win over the Rays at City of Palms.

"I've heard the rumors swirling," manager Terry Francona said after the game. "When it's appropriate to comment on whatever is appropriate, I'd be happy to. It's just probably not appropriate. I think he's a really good pitcher, though."

The signing of Lester, a second-round pick in 2002, would be the third of a homegrown talent in the past three months by the Red Sox. In December, the team inked second baseman Dustin Pedroia to a six-year, $40.5 million contract with an $11 million team option. A month later, first baseman Kevin Youkilis signed a four-year, $41 million deal with a $13 million option.

At the news conference for Youkilis's signing, Epstein said, "We've made no secret about our priorities here, that we want to develop a homegrown core of talent. We feel like that's the best way, the only way, to achieve sustainable success year in and year out. I think we've made a lot of progress in that regard. It's hard to keep preaching that message if the only players you give money to are players that you bring in from outside the organization."

For the Red Sox, there are certain criteria necessary to sign one of their young players to a long-term deal, including getting a team option and buying out at least one free agent year. With Lester, the reported deal would enable the team to buy out one year of free agency with the possibility of two if the team exercises its option.

Lester, who is scheduled to pitch today against the Pirates in Bradenton, added, "All I know is I'm showing up [today] and pitching. I keep it simple."

But his journey to this point has been anything but simple. Lester made his major league debut June 10, 2006, and less than three months later, the pitcher was diagnosed with a rare form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

He came back in 2007, battling through a frustrating season in which he felt buried in the minor leagues, to become one of baseball's top lefthanders. He went 3-0 in his final eight games, including seven starts, for the Red Sox and also earned the victory in the World Series Game 4 clincher vs. Colorado. Last season, Lester took over as the Red Sox ace, going 16-6 with a 3.21 ERA. In his career, Lester is 27-8 with a 3.81 ERA in 59 starts.

Among those wins was the May 19 no-hitter, thrown against the Royals. He was dominant in last year's postseason, as he boosted the team against the Rays in the American League Championship Series. Though he had a 1-2 postseason record, Lester had a 2.36 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 26 2/3 innings in four games.

And now, it appears Lester will stand with the other members of the Sox core for at least the next five years.

"If he did [sign], that would be good for the Red Sox and good for him," shortstop Julio Lugo said. "He's a good young guy, very respectful, and he belongs here."

Nick Cafardo of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com.

Correction: Because of an editing error, the name of the Associated Press photographer credited with the photo of Jon Lester was incorrect in yesterday's sports section. Steven Senne was the photographer.

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