We are all in agreement now, yes? Jon Lester is not coming back.
It’s not that his Newton home recently went up for sale. That may be more of a harbinger than a confirmation that he’s leaving Boston behind — as Peter Abraham put it, he can always buy a bigger house.
The reason we know Lester is gone is … well, it’s because he’s already gone. The Red Sox had months to exclusively negotiate with him. By all known accounts, they never made him an offer that was, what, $25 million-$50 million from what he’s liable to get in free agency?
Only one circumstance has changed since the day they traded him to the Oakland A’s. He’s found out first-hand that the uniform he wears and the city he represents has absolutely no bearing on his comfort or effectiveness as a pitcher. He loved Boston. But he can thrive anywhere.
The mound is the same distance from home plate everywhere, he’s damn good in any colors, and there will be teams lining up to pay him twice — more than twice — the $70 million the Red Sox offered him in spring training.
The only reason he has now to come back to Boston now is to load up the U-Haul.
None of this is any surprise to the Red Sox, of course. When John Henry hugged Lester in the Fenway players’ lot immediately after the trade, it was not a plaintive plea to return someday.
That was thank-you and goodbye, from the owner to a hell of a kid who grew into an admirable man here. It was a nice gesture, and it was as sentimental as this organization is going to get.
The Red Sox knew then that Lester was not coming back. Save for the straggling fan in a No. 31 jersey who still holds out hope, we know it now, too.
So we do what the Red Sox already began to do long ago. We turn to the next thing, the next-best thing, a very similar thing, actually. We wonder what it would take to acquire Cole Hamels from the Phillies.
For a couple of reasons, I hope the Red Sox and Phillies seriously discuss Hamels — and I’m convinced they will, given his apparent availability and how frequently the teams mutually scouted each other down the stretch.
The first reason is obvious: Among Lester’s contemporaries, Hamel’s is as close as it gets to his clone. Hamels is 11 days older — he turns 31 December 27. Lester has eight more career victories (116 to Hamels’s 108) and a slightly better adjusted ERA (125 to 121). Both have had memorable moments in the October spotlight. Hamels has been worth 40.4 wins above replacement according to baseball-reference; Lester 32.6. Lester is 10th on Hamels’ most similar players list (James Shields, another probable Red Sox target, is first). Hamels is sixth on Lester’s comp list.
They are very much alike. The main difference, and the one that appeals to the Red Sox? Contract length. Hamels is signed to a deal (four years and $90 million remaining, with some option possibilities) that you suspect is the high-end of what the Red Sox would have been willing to pay Lester.
The lesser reason I hope this is something both sides pursue? I’m curious as hell as to what Amaro might ask for in a deal. It seems the Phillies have just now come to grips with the reality that the Howard/Utley/Lee/Hamels glory days are gone and have no chance of making a comeback.
Back-to-back 89-loss seasons should have made that apparent, but given that Amaro essentially stood pat at the July trading deadline, you wonder whether some sort of intervention was necessary to wake him up about the state of his team.
No knock on the baseball adventure that is Yoenis Cespedes, but all in all I wish the Red Sox had just kept Lester, if only to spare the prospects that will have to head Philly’s way in any deal. I suppose there’s such depth and redundancy in the organization that deals are almost necessary.
But to acquire a player of Hamels’s high level of accomplishment, there will be some serious quality heading to the Phillies … provided Amaro doesn’t decide he just has to have Daniel Nava and Bryce Brentz. You never know with that guy.
In terms of the players/prospects whose names will surely be discussed, here’s how I’d categorize them in terms of availability. Let’s break ’em into tiers, since breaking stuff into tiers is always fun:
Untouchable in this trade
Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Rusney Castillo, Blake Swihart.
Comment: I wouldn’t trade Bogaerts in any realistic deal. (Yes, I would trade him in a move for Mike Trout. Also: Not realistic.) They only way Betts is going anywhere is if it’s for a prime-of-career elite bat. You know who I mean. Castillo isn’t being traded now. Swihart is a tough call. If he’s as good as the Red Sox believe, he shouldn’t go for Hamels. Deal-breaker.
Enticing prospects and young players possibly available for a player of Hamels’s caliber
Henry Owens, Christian Vazquez, Rubby De La Rosa, Joe Kelly, Manuel Margot, Rafael Devers, Garin Cecchini, Matt Barnes, Anthony Ranaudo, Brian Johnson, Eduardo Rodriguez, Devin Marrero, Edwin Escobar, Sean Coyle, Trey Ball.
Comment: I’d trade Owens in a heartbeat for Hamels. The attrition rate for pitchers is so high that you take the sure thing when you can. Not sure what to make of Margot and Devers now, but both are regarded as top-five prospects in the organization. Kelly, a relatively established hard-thrower who isn’t a free agent until 2019, could have appeal. Marrero seems like someone Amaro would like. He couldn’t hit, either.
Spare parts, fading dreams, Pawtucket summer residents, roster fodder, chill bros who can’t hit a slider
Comment: I believe the point has been made.
Actually, I can see Middlebrooks being a third or fourth piece in a deal for Hamels, even with Maikel Franco and Cory Asche in the picture as the Phillies’ modern-day Rick Schu clones. Middlebrooks is prominent in the 2011 Baseball America Prospect Handbook that Amaro surely uses as his bible.
How’s this for a conjectured trade? Owens and/or Kelly, Vazquez (I know — I like him too), one of the high-end Engel Beltre Memorial Single A lottery tickets, and Middlebrooks for Hamels.
Too much? Probably too little, right?
Don’t tell me Swihart has to be involved. Keep him out of it, and make this happen, Ben Cherington. Cole Hamels is what the Red Sox need. He’s the right player at the right time at the right price.
Oh, and have we got just the right place in Newton for him …