COMMENTARY | The Boston Red Sox have more than one realistic trade chip that should be traded for potentially better results. Jon Lester and Will Middlebrooks (who was sent back to AAA Pawtucket on June 25) are two that come immediately to mind.
The old adage "pitching wins championships" is an adage for a reason: It has been shown to be true over an extended period of time. If the Boston Red Sox want to make the postseason and perform well, having consistently good pitching has to be the focus of their efforts as the trade deadline approaches in July. The Red Sox simply need help for their bullpen and starting rotation. The help is out there. Trading Jon Lester could bring at least part of that help to Boston.
Why trade him?
Jon Lester is a starter! Yes, that much is true. But Jon Lester is expendable. As I see it, the Red Sox will have six starting pitchers when Clay Buchholz returns from the DL. The worst of this bunch is Jon Lester, who was tagged as their No.1 starter after spring training. He has not lived up to his expectations this year, was horrible last year, and the team would be wise to decline its option on him in 2014.
Whom do the Red Sox have within the organization that could replace him? The options currently are Alfredo Aceves, Rubby De La Rosa, Franklin Morales and Allen Webster. If either of these pitchers could go more than 5.1 innings and give up less than 5 runs per outing over the remainder of the season, it would be an improvement. Realistically, that is not asking much. But could the Red Sox trade Jon Lester and do better? Would a team give up anything for a player who will be a free agent in 2014 anyways?
I say, yes, the Chicago Cubs.
Whom might a Lester trade fetch?
Both Matt Garza and Jon Lester have underperformed in their last two seasons. Garza is currently being paid $10.25 million in 2013, and Lester is being paid $11.62 million in 2013. Both are free agents in 2014. Both are 29 years of age. Both have previously had success in the major leagues. Both pitchers have playoff experience. Both players are unlikely to be re-signed at the end of the year by their current clubs. Garza for Lester would be apples for apples and really is more a swap of remaining contracts than a trade. The Red Sox receive Matt Garza for the remainder of 2013, and the Chicago Cubs get Jon Lester for the remainder of 2013. Everyone wins. The $1.37 million difference in salary is picked up by the Red Sox.
Why would the Cubs make this trade?
The easy answer would be simply that Theo Epstein is involved in the process. However, there are two other reasons the Cubs make this trade:
1.) Enticement - No extra cost for Jon Lester. Paying $1.37 million more for Jon Lester, an underperforming starter who will be on the roster for 8-10 weeks, would not be very enticing for the Chicago Cubs. Lester seems to be getting worse as the season goes on, and Garza is performing slightly better. However, getting Jon Lester at no extra cost than what the Cubs currently pay Matt Garza is better than paying out the same money for a player that is definitely not going to be in Chicago in 2014 and beyond.
2.) Potential - In no way does Lester command the same contract in 2014 that he got in 2009 (5 years and $30 million). That may prove to be very attractive for a Chicago Cubs team that could use another starter at a realistic price tag. Reliever Carlos Marmol and his bloated contract (3 years and $20 million) come off the books after 2013, leaving some money available for a player that Theo Epstein knows well, and one who may well be resurrected in Chicago. Such turnarounds, for starting pitchers with a change of scenery, are not unheard of. The Cubs may want to sign Lester at the end of 2013, and he will have had some experience, albeit brief, within the organization.
For the Boston Red Sox of 2013, Matt Garza holds more value than Jon Lester does and paying the difference to unload Lester is worth the difference in potential player value through the end of the year. If Garza does not pan out for the Red Sox in 2013, they simply let him walk away at the end of the year. If he has rekindled his mojo from 2008, the Red Sox may be able to strike a deal with Garza, a pitcher who would at least have had some experience playing in Boston for a team with a promising future.
Theo Epstein and old pal Ben Cherington should seemingly be able to make this trade work, and Lester's trade chip value may pay off.
Patrick Bernier is a freelance writer who has been following the Boston Red Sox for 25 years.
You can follow Patrick on Twitter @PatrickBern7.
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- Boston Red Sox
- Jon Lester
- Matt Garza
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