SOX PITCHING SET WITH LESTER GONE?

Over the last few weeks we have watched the Major League Baseball Free Agent marketplace closely. The market for position players was quite active, particularly in Boston where Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, two of the most sought after Free Agents, eventually signed.

The drama in the market for starting pitchers seemed to go on and on. Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and James Shields were the most prominent and sought after of the starters, although there were and still are several lesser pitchers of value. The competition for Lester was like a soap opera with new suitors arriving it seemed like every day.

On November 22, Rob Bradford, of WEEI, said Lester would meet with two teams next week and had met with the Cubs in Chicago on Thursday. Four days later, the day after the Sox announced they had signed Pablo Sandoval, David Kaplan of CSN Chicago said the Cubs had offered Lester $135. million for six years. That same day, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, said the Giants would now turn their attention to Lester after losing Sandoval.

On and on it went, with the Dodgers and Yankees being mentioned next in the bidding. The consensus appeared to be that Lester would sign first and then the unsuccessful teams would scramble for Scherzer, Shields and the rest.

Then it was rumored that Lester would make his decision before the Winter Meetings started on December 7. That date came and went and the rumor was that Lester would decide by December 8th or 9th and on the night of December 9, Jamal Collier, of Hot Stove, reported Lester had informed the Giants that he was choosing between the Cubs and Red Sox.

At that point, having had enough of the drama, I decided to take a closer look at the comparative records of the Big Three. Lester and Shields both made their major league debuts in 2006 and Scherzer in 2008. In his first five years in the majors, Lester won 61 and lost 25, a .690 percentage. In his first four years, Scherzer was 36 and 35 and Shields was 56-51 in his first five years, neither an exceptional won loss percentage. In his next four years, Lester was 40-33, a .567 percentage, while Scherzer was 55-15, a

.786 percentage, for his last three years, and, in his last four years, Shields was 58-39, a .598 percentage.

In post season play, Lester has a decided edge, with a 6-4 record and 2.57 ERA , compared to Scherzer, who has won 4 and lost 3 with a 3.73 ERA and Shields, whose nickname, Big Game James, does not agree with his 3-6 record with a 5.46 ERA. For their careers, Lester has won 116 and lost 67, a .634 percentage, while Scherzer is 91-50, a .645 percentage and Shields114-90, a .559 percentage.

On the surface, at almost age 31, Lester’s performance seems to have declined over the second half of his career although he has played with terrible teams in two of the last three years. On the other hand, Scherzer, playing with a playoff team the last three

years, has seen his record improve dramatically as he nears 31. Shields, at a slightly older 33, has also seen his record improve. All three have been in the World Series but only Lester has a ring having been with the Sox is 2007 and 2013.

Lester was 16-11, with a 2.52 ERA last year between Boston and Division Winner Oakland, Scherzer 18-5, and a 3.15 ERA, with Division Winner Detroit and Shields 14-8, and a 3.21 ERA with World Series loser Kansas City. All three are workhorses throwing between 219 and 227 innings last year.

How did the market make Lester the front runner while the others, both buyers and sellers, seemed to sit back and wait to see what would happen with him? Your guess is as good as mine. After looking at the numbers, I would have thought Scherzer would be up front but what do I know. Just another reason why baseball is so interesting.

As you all know by now, Lester decided to sign a six year, $155. million deal, with the Cubs. ( By the way, at 33 starts per year, that comes out to $782,828. per start. ) The Cubs had also reached agreement with Free Agent starting pitcher Jason Hammel who they had traded to Oakland last year with Jeff Samardjia. They also acquired Arizona Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero.

After losing Lester, Ben Cherrington and staff got to work in a hurry. On Thursday morning, Ken Rosenthal announced the Sox had reached agreement to trade Allen Webster and Rubby DeLaRosa to the Diamondbacks for Wade Miley, a left handed starter, who was 16-11 with a 3.33 ERA as a rookie in 2012 but slipped to 8-12 and 4.34 last year. A short time later, MLB.com reported that the Sox had traded Yoenis Cespedes and Alex Wilson to Detroit for Rick Porcello. Porcello, a 25 year old, right handed starter, was 15-13 with a 3.53 ERA and three shutouts with Detroit last year.

By early afternoon the same day, the word was out that the Sox had reached agreement with Free Agent Justin Masterson, a right handed starter who was previously with the Sox before spending time in Cleveland and St. Louis. He was 7-9 with a 5.88 ERA last year after being 14-10 with a 3.45 ERA the year before.

Masterson, Porcello and Miley are not Aces but Porcello is a solid third or maybe second starter and the addition of these three is a major rebuilding of this pitching staff. With Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly, they should have a solid five man rotation. The latest report today is that the Sox are still looking for another starter and might be willing to give up Kelly and others to get one.

Obviously, if they could trade Kelly, Middlebrooks and Bradley, or others for a front line starter it would be a good move. However, the Sox have Anthony Ranaudo and Henry Owens who could be ready to step into the rotation this year. They don’t need to build a surplus of starters which would reduce the number of relievers available as the season starts.

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