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Closing Time: Jon Lester, big name gone bad

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Jon Lester and the Sandwich Wrap guy (USP)

Generally I'm a fan of the Lesters of the world. Lester Burnham, antihero. Lester Bangs, rock journalist and raconteur. Lester Schonbrun, Scrabble mensch. Lester Grimm, an interesting character in a forgotten Baumbach movie.

Jon Lester? Sorry, lefty, you're no friend of mine. It's all about the numbers, not the names.

Lester's latest mediocre start hit on Tuesday at Fenway Park, a stinker against the White Sox. Lester lasted just four innings, allowing seven hits, six runs. He's now carrying a 4.80 ERA and a 1.39 WHIP, along with a crummy 5-7 record. Lester's O-Rank before the year was a lofty 60; his actual rank right now in the Yahoo! game is 766. What a mess.

Lester's a good example of how a name player in a high-profile city can often be overrated. His career ERA is 3.67 and his career WHIP is 1.30; you're never getting into the Cy Young conversation with those ratios. And heck, his best seasonal ERA is a mere 3.21, and his best seasonal WHIP is an ordinary 1.20. Those aren't trophy-worthy numbers, either.

Lester apologists can point to his strikeout numbers if they want, though the 7.58/9 clip is his lowest in four years. And while the ERA estimators do suggest some bad luck is at play with Lester (especially with a low strand rate), the alphabet soup doesn't promise a superstar ERA. The FIP calculation lands at 3.68, xFIP says 3.63, and SIERA has Lester at 3.73. Those aren't numbers that move the needle.

Pitching in Fenway Park is no picnic, of course — Lester is a 3.68/1.35 commodity at home for his career. And you don't get many easy assignments in the AL East, especially if the Yankees (fourth in runs) or Blue Jays (third) are on the docket.

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Birthday party, cheesecake (USP)

So what can Lester owners do with their struggling pesudo-ace? Pursue a trade. You don't need your entire league to believe in Lester, you just need to find one person who will take the case. And in a lot of pools, that one guy does exist. (And before you get on me for hurting your cause, understand there are other fantasy analysts who still like Lester. I saw one pundit calling Lester a Top 30 arm this week. Public confidence hasn't completely crashed yet.)

Maybe you can simply ship Lester out of town for the best bat available. I saw an Anthony Rizzo-Lester deal happen this week, and a Paul Konerko-Lester swap also went down. And while the package-offer game might not work in sharp leagues (where most people realize the best player in a deal usually slants the deal), you might be able to find a depth-shattered owner who will take a chance.

Someone recently shipped Lester and Adrian Gonzalez for Clayton Kershaw, a move I'd sign off on immediately. Lester and Jacoby Ellsbury for Robinson Cano? I like selling Ellsbury with an expectant price attached. And you can play it from the depth-grab position, too. Lester for Will Middlebrooks and Tyler Clippard? A risky deal on both sides, but I'd be willing to take the kid corner and the could-be closer over the disappointing big-name ace.

I don't know your league context as well as you do. I don't know the other owners in your league. Maybe you'll have to wait until Lester actually pitches well again before you entertain trading him — often it's a timing thing for best results. But are you confident that Lester can stop the Blue Jays at Fenway this weekend, or the Yankees in The Bronx next week? I'm not.

If you're not trying to sell this overpriced big name, you're not trying. That's my story, and I'll be sticking to it.

Maybe we're going to be an injury blog before long. Tuesday was another Red Cross day, with Ryan Braun (groin) suffering a groin injury. He's not in Wednesday's lineup, surely to the delight of the Adam Wainwright apologists (I'm raising my hand). Matt Holliday (thigh) is also sitting that one out. As for Jed Lowrie, the Astros are hoping to get him back in 4-6 weeks — but remember the team is nowhere near contention, so there's no incentive to rush him back. If you can liquidate Lowrie for anything usable now (even if it's a tiny piece), I suggest you do it.

Carl Crawford's return has been a smash through two games: four hits, four runs, three steals, even a walk (oh, that patient man). It's been fortunate Crawford hasn't faced a lefty starter yet, though he did knock a single against a left-handed reliever. The Red Sox face three southpaws in the next three games, albeit they're non-threatening southpaws: Pedro Hernandez, Jose Quintana, Aaron Laffey. The best time to sell Crawford might be five minutes after you read this. (The Red Sox apparently agree — some crazy Crawford trade rumors are on the web today. Alas, the Red Sox have to maneuver around Crawford's albatross contract, which runs through 2017.)

The closer is dead in Milwaukee; long live the new closer. Francisco Rodriguez was appointed the new man in Suds City before Tuesday's game, and he came through with a wobbly-but-effective conversion against the Cardinals. David Freese opened with a double and Yadier Molina singled to center, but then K-Rod locked it down: infield out, strikeout (oh, that pesky Skip Schumaker), pop out. Free fries at Arnold's.

How long this arrangement lasts (Rodriguez in, John Axford out) depends on how effective K-Rod happens to be. As discussed in the previous Closing Time, I don't have a ton of faith in either stopper. And I also expect K-Rod to be in trade talks for most of the summer (even if it's during the waiver period). Place your bets, save chasers.

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Cleared by Adam Bricker (USP)

Speed Round: The Dodgers appear to be one of the frontrunners, and perhaps the lead dog, in the Ryan Dempster chase. Dempster's fantasy value stays tidy in the NL, but I'd hate to see him toiling for an AL East club . . . The Phillies limited Roy Halladay to five innings (two runs) in his first start back. He threw 80 pitches at Chavez Ravine, 55 for strikes. Next up: a home turn against Milwaukee . . . A Petco Park start turned Ross Ohlendorf into a useful pitcher (6 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 6 K). Okay, the Astros played into it as well. No mixed-league juice here, but NL-only owners can certainly consider him on the weekend, at home, against Colorado . . . A trip to Oakland cured some Roy Oswalt ills (6.1 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 6 K). Josh Reddick spoiled the party with a solo homer in the seventh, but otherwise it was clear sailing. Oswalt can't be trusted next week, when he's at home against Boston . . . Justin Smoak is doing all he can to stave off a demotion to Triple-A: he's hit two homers and also walked twice thus far in the Kansas City series. He's also back over the Mendoza Line, currently standing at .201. Too soon to trust him in a mixer, even with 13 homers over 319 at-bats . . . Mike Trout and his merry henchmen threw a 13-spot at the Tigers. That guy is unfair . . . Hector Sanchez (knee) went on the 15-day DL, which means Mr. Brightside Eli Whiteside rejoins the club as the caddy for Buster Posey . . . The buy-low window on Cameron Maybin might be closing fast. Maybin collected three hits and a couple of RBIs in Tuesday's win. He's pushed his batting average up 19 points this month . . . No reason to hold on Trevor Bauer, obviously (3 IP, 1 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 5 BB, 4 K, 2 WP). He's got tons of stuff, but still has no idea where it's going.

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