It’s becoming clear that the Red Sox never had/have any intention of extending Jon Lester. Unless it was to the contract they offered in the spring. They weren’t going to make that kind of commitment to a pitcher as old as Lester is. Whether they never want to sign a pitcher who is 30, or don’t want to sign a contract that ends when a pitcher is 35, Lester is too old. This begs the question:
How do you expect to have elite talent?
After all, no matter when you sign a player, aren’t you going to be signing them up to their 35ish year old season? Right now, Lester would get a 5-7 year deal pushing him past 35. But, if you went after him two years ago, wouldn’t it take a 7-9 year deal? So you’d still be paying for the 35 year old season? Any elite free agent is going to be looking for the contract to take him to his mid-30’s. So, if you decide you never want to do that, you’ll never have elite talent. Is there a chance in hell that plan could work?
Well, it sort of did last year.
Isn’t that the year that makes one think the strategy at least has a chance? Everyone on the team was either a young guy at the end of his initial contract, or an older free agent on a short term deal. Two exceptions come to mind. Lackey is an older free agent who was towards the end of his deal. And Pedroia, whose disaster of an extension might be the straw that finally broke the camel’s back. Other than that, the team looked like what the team is now becoming.
They’re setting up to have a young core. Bogaerts and Bradley and Middlebrooks and Holt and Vazquez and Betts and Workman and De La Rosa. They’re the ones filling the roles that Lester and Ellsbury and Pedroia filled in 2007 and morphed into in 2013. The young group that plays a role one year, and leads a few years later, just before their contract expires and they want big deals. Then you fill it in with short term vets. Whether it’s Schilling and Lowell, or Victorino and Napoli.
From there, it’s just changing the names. Lester leaves, so you get a prospect/pick in return. In a few years, Middlebrooks is shown the door, without so much as an offer of an 8-year deal. Then Bogaerts. You just have to hope that with all your extra prospects and picks, you can find enough quality to keep the team stocked with talent. From there, you can add key pieces, and depth.
That’s the one thing that separates this plan from, say, the Rays and A’s. There’s money available. They can overpay Victorino for a short deal. They can pay Carp more than he’d get elsewhere to be a key player on the bench. The money can be used to get you depth. Something “small market” teams can’t do. So, there’s the turnover and flexibility of the Rays, with the depth of the Yankees. It’s an interesting theory.
The main flaw is depending on prospects. Sure, the pure mass of them increases your odds. Right now the list of Sox top prospects is longer than I can ever remember. The hope is that one of them is a stud, and three of them are damn good. The rest are roster filler. That’s something you can build around. Don’t get the stud? It’s much much tougher. Get one fewer all-star? That’s a problem.
It’s an interesting idea. I don’t know if it can work. I hate depending on prospects. They’re way too risky for my blood. But maybe, just maybe, the sheer volume of prospects they get from this plan assures the success. Maybe it could work.
It kind of already did.