Tag Archives: LESTER

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.

NO MAGIC POTION FOR CUBS

What’s going on on the north side of Chicago? This past week, they brought back their former pitcher Jason Hammel, traded two young right handed pitchers for catcher Miguel Montero of the Arizona Diamondbacks and then enticed the most sought after of the Free Agent pitchers, Jon Lester, to sign with them instead of returning to the Red Sox.

Theo Epstein, the former General Manager of the Red Sox, who left Boston to become President for Baseball Operations with the Chicago Cubs at the end of the Red Sox disastrous 2011 season, is entering the fourth year of a five year $18.5 million contract there. He has worked to build a strong farm system and focused on long term success. He made no promises of immediate success when he first came to Chicago but promised to work to ‘ ..get where we want to go, which is to a foundation of sustained success ‘ as he was quoted in the Cubs 2011 Spring Training Program.

There is no question the Cubs have progressed in his three years at the helm. The Cubs have been mired in fifth place in the competitive Central Division of the National League since before he arrived there. In his first year, they won just 61 games, the next year 66 and last year 73. In 2012, they finished 36 games out, in 2013, 31, and, in 2014, 17.

Epstein and his team, which includes Jed Hoyer, his General Manager, who he brought over from Boston where they built the team that won three World’s Championships this century, brought in Hammel, Lester and Montero to try to put the finishing touches on their long term plan.

Lester and Hammel will become two members of a starting rotation that will include Jake Arieta, a right hander who was 10-5 last year with a 2.53 ERA in 25 starts, Travis Wood, who is a better left handed pitcher that his 8-13 record with a 5.03 ERA last year and Kyle Hendricks a 25 year old right hander who went 7-2 in 13 starts with a 2.46 ERA last year as a rookie. They also have Tsuyoshi Wada who, as a 33 year old rookie, was 4-4 with a 3.25 ERA.

Before being traded to Oakland last year, Hammel was 8-5 with a 2.98 ERA and Lester was 16-11 with a 2.46 ERA between Boston and Oakland. With the addition of these two, the Cubs should have a solid rotation.

Closer Hector Rondon, was successful in 29 of 33 save attempts with an ERA of 2.42. The rest of the bullpen, including Blake Parker, who has relieved 67 times in the last two years, Pedro Strop, 65 appearances and a 2.21 ERA last year, Justin Grimm, a 26 year old right hander who was in 73 games, with a 5-2 record and 3.78 ERA and Neil Ramirez, a 25 year old right hander with a 1.44 ERA in 50 games, has excellent potential.

Montero played in 136 games at Arizona last year and hit .243. The infield is not set but has Anthony Rizzo, .286, 32 homers and 78 RBI’s, at first, Javier Baez, a shortstop, who, as a rookie, played 52 games and hit only .169, will either play second or short. Starlin Castro, who despite some problems, hit .292 with 14 homers and 65 RBI’s will probably start the season at short and Luis Valbuena, who hit .249 with 16 homers and 51 RBI’s at third.

Chris Coghlan, .283 in 125 games should be in left with Jorge Soler, a rookie, who played only 24 games last year but hit .292 with 5 homers and 24 RBI’s the favorite to be in right. Arismendy Alcantara, who came up in early July and played 48 of his 70 games in center while hitting only .205 but had 10 homers may be the center fielder but could move to second depending upon what happens with Castro and Baez. Ryan Sweeney, who only played in 77 games, due to injuries, and hit .251 is available for outfield duty, too.

New manager Joe Maddon who seems to get more out of young players than most managers has a good nucleus and, if his starting rotation stays healthy, should make the Cubs competitive. Playing in the National League Central with the Cardinals, Pirates, Reds and Brewers will make it difficult to make the playoffs but Epstein and Hoyer have come a long way in a short time with this team and the future looks brighter.

Lots of things are happening with the Cubs. The City of Mesa built them a brand new, state of the art, spring training complex which opened last year to replace Hohokam Field where they had been forever. Wrigley Field, which celebrated its 100th year last year is being renovated and Cubs fans are looking forward to a competitive team for the first time in a long while.

The Cubs have as good a fan base as any team in baseball, especially given their long drought. I think they’re going to like the way this team will perform for the old master Maddon but don’t look for a pennant right away.

RED SOX NEED PITCHING NOW

In the press conference this afternoon announcing the signing of Pablo Sandoval to a Red Sox contract, Sox General Manager Ben Cherrington talked about the impact Sandoval would have on their ability to score runs. He pointed out that ‘… run scoring is down around all of baseball’ and went on to say how important it is to get players like Sandoval in the prime of his career to improve your offense.

There is no question that the addition of Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, who is reportedly just a physical exam away from joining the Sox, will give the Red Sox more run scoring ability. With the veteran bats of David Ortiz, Yoenis Cespedes, Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Allen Craig and the potential hitting ability of Rumsey Castillo, Brock Holt and Xander Bogaerts, the 2015 Red Sox could be an offensive juggernaut.

Sandoval is a switch hitting, good fielding third baseman who hits a lot of line dives which is what is needed in Fenway. He has plenty of playoff and world series experience which should make it easier for him to handle the media circus that is Boston. Ramirez is a career .300 hitter who spent the last three years in Los Angeles with the Dodgers. In seven years with Miami before going to Los Angeles in 2012, he hit .300 and hit .299 in his time in L. A. He will be 31 next month and rumor has it he may be going to play the outfield in Boston although he is a shortstop by trade and has no outfield experience.

If the Red Sox hold onto Cespedes, Castillo fulfills his potential and Ortiz has the kind of year he is capable of, this Sox team should be able to score runs with the best of them.

On the other hand, if Cherrington does not come up with a couple of starting pitchers, Red Sox fans could be in for a lot of high scoring losses. Jon Lester is meeting with the Cardinals next week and the Cubs, Braves, Giants, Blue Jays and Royals are also competing with the Sox for his services.

The new additions leave the Sox with an excess of outfielders and infielders that could be used to secure some pitching help in trade where it would probably be much less expensive but perhaps not as good.

There are some good Free Agents out there but the question is how much are the Red Sox willing to pay to get the pitchers they need. Max Scherzer, James Shields, Jon Lester and the other starters out there are all looking at big numbers and Sox just committed themselves to roughly $200. million for the Panda and Ramirez.

In addition, as of this writing the Sox still need another catcher to handle whatever kind of pitching staff they end up with. Christian Vasquez proved his ability last year but he is still relatively inexperienced and it would be nice to pick up a veteran to share the load and mentor him.

For the fans of Red Sox Nation, lets hope that the Sox ownership is committed to giving this impressive offense the pitching it needs to be successful.