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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

An open letter to John Henry and Ben Cherington

Proven commodity. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Dear John and Ben,
I know you are quite busy with the trade deadline looming, but I wanted to drop a quick note with my thoughts about the topic on everybody's mind today: Jon Lester.

First off, a disclaimer. As a 15-year employee at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, I am more aware than most of the tremendous impact Lester has made on cancer patients and their families. By winning the clinching game of the 2007 World Series less than a year after finishing active treatment for a rare form of lymphoma, Lester became a hero right on par with Ted Williams in the infusion rooms and research clinics of Dana-Farber. He remains so today, as much for the kind words of support he offers current patients as for his on-field deeds.
A hero on and off the field. (Jimmy Fund)

But Lester need not have beaten cancer to be a hero. As one of the most reliable and durable pitchers in the major leagues for nearly a decade, he has helped the Red Sox to two world championships and proven himself a man of character and class. Yes, he was involved in the "chicken and beer" fiasco of 2011, but he owned up to his poor choices and has rebounded to pitch better than ever this season. He keeps himself in great shape and never misses a start, a rarity these days.

Therein lies the key point I want to make: Jon Lester is a proven commodity in an era when that commodity is a rarity. He is a left-handed starter who owns a fantastic .636 lifetime winning percentages despite pitching half of his games at Fenway Park and all of his games for a fan base and multimedia horde that demands more of its players than any other. We have seen what happens to some "elite" athletes when the come to Boston -- they can't handle the pressure and drop off in performance (i.e. Carl Crawford). Jon Lester is at his best when the pressure is on. A 2.11 career postseason ERA (3-0 and 0.43 in the World Series) is evidence of that.
In the postseason, no one does it better.

I know what your analytics tell you -- pitchers signed to long-term contracts at age 30 do not maintain their quality for the life of the contract. This plus the fact the Red Sox are probably not going to repeat as world champions this season (I have learned since 2004 to never say "not" in such cases until the mathematics warrant it), makes it tempting to trade him for some top prospects. But prospects are even a greater risk than a 30-year-old pitcher, and with all the strong young hurlers currently in the Red Sox organization, who better to help tutor them in the ways of Boston baseball than the guy who has conquered it? 

Before you make a move you may regret, let me leave you with a story. In the mid-1950s, Ted Williams was considering retirement. He was worn out after serving in two wars and going through a messy divorce, and wanted to go out on top. Then a fan told him all the records he could achieve if he were to stay in the game and cement his status as the greatest hitter of all time -- and the greatest player in Red Sox history. Moved and motivated, Ted continued playing through 1960.
Give this man the green.

Jon Lester currently has 110 wins, all for Boston. If he signs a six-year contract, and averages 15 wins for the first five seasons (very doable given his track record), he will enter the 2020 season with at least 185 victories -- and be poised to pass Cy Young and Roger Clemens (with 192 each) as the winningest pitcher in Red Sox history. I'm not sure if Lester knows these numbers, or cares about them, but I can't imagine a better person to have atop the franchise leader board.

Can you?


  1. I think it would be a Hugh mistake to let Lester go.He is a true RED SOX Player. He always gives his all.

    1. I couldn't agree more -- he's proven himself year in and year out to be an outstanding pitcher and person, and nobody is better in the postseason. A huge loss on the field, in the clubhouse, and in the community. I'm still hoping it doesn't happen but it's not looking good.