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Is Jon Lester running himself out of town?

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  July 12, 2012 09:28 AM

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Jon Lester should be the most beloved athlete in Boston.

He's the best lefthander this town has seen since Bruce Hurst, with a World Series, a no-hitter, and a 19-win season on his resume. His cancer battle was a journey that all Red Sox fans followed with great concern, and not merely because of the promise the youngster brought to the franchise, a status that became secondary to the health of the youngster.

Instead, Lester is an enigma, an All-Star athlete who has plunged in popularity not only because of his subpar performance (10-11, 4.18 ERA since last year's All-Star break) but because of the dour demeanor that seems to have infected the 28-year-old. Fans should want to embrace him. Instead, he seems more a man ungrateful for the blessed path he's been given, something that probably can't resonate with anyone who's had the misfortune to experience what he has.

Peter Gammons went on 98.5 The Sports Hub yesterday and suggested that Lester was "unhappy" in Boston, and that it might be time to break ties with the pitcher once thought to be Boston's ace in the waiting.

"I just sense that Jon is so unhappy here that I'm sure it would be good for him," Gammons said on the "Felger and Mazz" show, "The question is how would the team survive without the hope of having Jon Lester go out and win 10 games in the second half of the season?"

Ten games? Again, Lester has won only 10 games in the past 12 months.

Clearly, something is not right with Lester, both from a physical and mental perspective, and one only needs to go as far as Kevin Youkilis to see what a change of scenery can do for one's professional health.

Lester took out some aggression on fans Wednesday through Twitter, where he fought with fans aggravated about the team's disappointing, laissez-faire first half to the 2012 season.

lester1.jpg

He then went on a verbal crusade with followers who questioned his commitment and attitude, bringing fellow teammate Will Middlebrooks into the mire. Hours later, Gammons made his comments, and wouldn't you know, last evening, Lester Tweeted the following.

lester2.jpg

He won't be.

Unless the Red Sox start playing like a playoff threat these next two weeks, a stretch that includes the Rays, White Sox (did you get your shameless Red Sox ticket e-mail push about that one yet?) , Blue Jays, Rangers, Yankees, and Tigers, let's face it, Lester is their most tradeable commodity. He's 28 and under contract through next season at relatively reasonable dollars ($11.6 million in 2013). Aside from eternal band-aid Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, and Middlebrooks, for which other players are competing teams going to be willing to surrender something of satiable value? David Ortiz is an intriguing case, and if it's for the good of the franchise, and not history, to deal him, I'm on board. But even with the season he's having, you won't get as much for the would-be free agent as you would a starting lefthanded pitcher. Josh Beckett has his almighty 10-5 rights, a hefty contract, and I'm sure he'd make any trade proposal a difficult route to travel, as sophomoric as the idea may be.

Besides, maybe it's just time for a fresh start for Lester. The man is clearly disgruntled about something, whether it be management, family life, the Boston environment, or the fact that he and Josh Beckett can't visit Popeye's without it turning into a comedic skit. He may be the team's de facto ace, but for a franchise at a pivotal crossroads, he's the team's most coveted commodity. He can say what he wants. If Lester is a happy man in Boston, then he makes Edgar Renteria look like Jeremy Piven in PCU.

Whatever happened to the Lester we thought would be a treasured staple in Boston for years to come has somehow evaporated into a guy who might tend to be a No. 3 starter on most teams, a pitcher who can be brilliant, but is clearly not tapping deep into his talented potential. He and Beckett are reasons No. 1 and No. 1A why this team is in the basement, and if he can't face up to that fact and do something about it, then it's just time to cut ties. It just is.  

Maybe he can do it elsewhere, and in fact, there's little doubt he can.

But Lester and Boston seem to have hit a major snag in their relationship. He's the man this town wants to love, but can't quite figure out. And just maybe Lester's recent attitude and approach to the game is now giving some reason as to why.

Let him be that guy somewhere else. 

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About the Author

Eric Wilbur is a Boston.com sports columnist who is still in awe of what Dana Kiecker pulled off that one time in Toronto. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and three children. Comments and suggestions for the best Buffalo wing spots are encouraged.

Contact Eric Wilbur by e-mail or follow him on Twitter.

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