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Eric Wilbur's Sports Blog

Red Sox Are Only Kidding Themselves and Their Fans if They Don't Trade Jon Lester Before the Deadline

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The Red Sox royally screwed up the Jon Lester negotiations, and there’s only one avenue left yet to pursue: Lester needs to go by next Thursday.

If the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline comes and goes, and Lester is still here, there will remain the flickering hope that the Red Sox will do their best to reign their ace lefty in during his offseason free agency, that they’ll do everything they can to compete with the mind-boggling offers that are inevitable to come from the Yankees and perhaps the Tigers, who will be dealing with a similar situation with fellow free agent pitcher Max Scherzer. The Dodgers, Cardinals, and Rangers could all come calling, but faith will remain that Boston will go toe-to-toe with each of them in order to cement the top of its rotation for years to come.

Don’t buy into it.

Lester is gone. Get what you can for him now.

In an e-mail to the Boston Herald, Red Sox owner John Henry said that the team and Lester, 10-7 with a 2.50 ERA this season, have tabled negotiations until after the season, the first, true sign fans have received from ownership that any urgency to lock the pitcher into a long-term deal is a fantasy.

“I’m not going to discuss Jon’s situation out of respect for both Jon and [general manager] Ben [Cherington] other than to say that both sides have put further discussion off until after the season,” Henry wrote. “It’s clear that both Jon and our organization would like to see Jon back next year if possible.”

If possible. That is the key phrase, the nut of the Red Sox’ intentions. It was possible to sign Lester to a contract in spring training. Instead, Boston offered the two-time World Series winner a four-year, $70 million deal that has become a laugher in baseball circles. It may be clear that the Red Sox want to see Lester back next season, as Henry proclaims. It’s even clearer that a long-term deal with a 30-year-old scares them to death, especially in the shadow of the blundering Carl Crawford mistake, not to mention the valid concern that Dustin Pedroia is a shadow of the player he was before signing a seven-year, $100 million contract just last year.

To further implant the franchise’s position, Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino appeared on WEEI’s Dennis and Callahan Show (featuring frequent Perkins Restaurant and Bakery patron Kirk Minihane) and did everything but tell fans where to send their farewell cards.

“[Cherington] may still have some continuing discussion with [agent] Seth [Levinson] on other issues or other matters, but certainly the negotiation, the parties have agreed to let’s step away and do this after the season,” Lucchino said. “Jon made very clear to us that that was his preference.

“It’s done in part out of respect for Jon Lester and his desire to postpone this until after the season. He’s on an extraordinary roll. His last five or six games, his ERA is I don’t know, 0.90 or something like that. He’s leading this team, leading the rotation, and his very strong preference, as I think you might have heard from him just a day or two ago on national television was not to have his family and himself distracted and focused on something other than pitching and winning baseball games.

“Looking back and doing an analysis of, ‘Was this a wrong step or was this the right step,’ would only be counterproductive.”

OK, let’s be counterproductive then. Wrong step, Larry.

Lester’s departure sure seems inevitable, which is why it only makes sense for Cherington to concentrate on what he can get in return for the lefty before the trading deadline in eight days. Unless they want to do their typical finger-pointing at the Yankees for the draft pick they’ll acquire, if they, naturally, do indeed give Lester a qualifying offer, some seven years down the road. That’ll be fun.

Renting him to a competitive team thirsting for a starter is really the only option at this point if the Red Sox want to be completely honest with themselves and their fans. Lucchino and Friends clearly don’t want to go long-term and see a declining Lester in his late-30s making some $25 million per year. It was the right decision with Pedro Martinez in 2004, as much as it pained to see the future Hall of Famer biding out his years in a Mets uniform, of all things.

Maybe it will be with Lester, as well.

But there’s no reason to keep him around for a dog-and-pony show or the delusion that the Red Sox can get back in the postseason hunt. Trading him ends the charade and gets the Sox a package more valuable than a single draft pick. Why are the Red Sox making these statements when another report claims that Lester is still open to talking numbers? Connect the dots.

It’s their fault, but now is the time to fix it. It won’t be the way everybody involved hoped, but it’s all that remains. At this point, what does it matter whether it’s July or November?

He’s gone. Teams, feel free to begin submitting your bids.

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