Price vs. Lester, Part 1 of a Series

Let me ask a question that cannot yet be answered: are the Red Sox better off with David Price than they would be if they had signed Jon Lester to an extension in either the Spring or December of 2014?  The short answer is that only time will tell, so I’ll revisit this question from time to time.  But let’s review the situation now that Price has his first start in a Boston uniform under his belt.

I think we all know the history here.  Our man Jon entered Spring training 2014 looking for a new contract with enough room after the dollar sign for nine digits and two commas and which would keep him gainfully employed, or at least drawing a paycheck, beyond the Tokyo Olympics.

Sox GM, Ben Cherrington, said he’d check with his boss, John Henry, who colored at the suggestion he’d pay such a gaudy amount of money to a pitcher over the age of thirty.  Still, he agreed to see what could be done; but after he checked his bank book, the envelope in the back of his sock drawer, his wife’s purse, and between the seat cushions on his yacht, he was only able to come up with about 40 mil.  When Ben brought this to Jon, Jon suggested they could just talk about it later.

When the topic came up again in December, Mr. Henry had scraped together as much as $130 million.  Nice.  But not as nice as $155 million, especially when that came with the opportunity to face a hapless pitcher every ninth batter rather than big, scary men with names like A-Rod and V-Mart.  Jon bid farewell to the Fenway faithful and took his talents to a place called Wrigleyville.

At some point during the Summer of 2015, Mr. Henry realized that it really sucks fielding a Major League Baseball team that conspicuously lacks that special someone who can consistently pitch a baseball in such a way that opposing batters are not able to hit it.  Therefore, in a fit of pique, Mr. Henry hired a guy named Dave as the new President of Baseball Operations, gave all of Ben’s job responsibilities to him, and informed Ben that his new responsibilities as GM would be ordering hot dog buns and building some new shelves in the basement.  Mr. Henry was surprised and a little hurt when Ben tendered his resignation.  After unpacking his stuff, Dave asked Mr. Henry for $217 million dollars so he could go buy a pitcher.  Mr. Henry said “Sure, no problem” and the Red Sox signed David Price as there new, number one starter.

So, with that history in mind, and acknowledging that the signing of Price was a complete abandonment of the principles that kept them from signing Lester, let’s take a look at the numbers and see whether the fumbling of the Lester negotiations might end up working out hunky dory for the Sox in the end.

The Cubs signed Lester to a six year, $155MM deal in December, 2014. So, they have him wrapped up through 2020 at $25MM a year. There’s a “vesting option” for a seventh year at $15MM.

This past winter, the Red Sox signed David Price to a 7 year, $217MM contract. That means we have him through the 2022 season at $31MM a year.

Lester turned 32 in January. The Cubs will be paying him $25MM a year through the age of 36 and another $15MM at the age of 37, if the option vests.

Price is 30. He will turn 31 in August. We’ll have him through the age of 36.

Lester’s ERA was 3.34 in 2015. Price’s ERA was 2.45 in 2015.

Lester’s career ERA is 3.54. That’s over 286 games, 1808 innings.

Price’s career ERA is 3.09. That’s over 219 games, 1447 innings.

In his first start of 2016, Lester was strong, giving up one run over 7 innings for the win. His ERA stands at 1.29.

In his first start, Price was also strong, although not as dominant as Lester. Price gave up two runs over 6 innings for the win. His ERA stands at 3.00.

By not signing Lester, the Sox missed out on the opportunity to pay him $25MM for a so-so season in 2015. Over the next 5 seasons, 2016 to 2020, we’ll be paying $6MM more per year for a younger, better pitcher. If Lester hits his benchmarks, the Cubs will have him in 2021 at the age of 37 for another $15MM, whether they want him or not. We’ll have Price for 2021 and 2022, ages 35 and 36, for $31MM each year.  At age 37, he’s on his own.

It’s understood that, if the Sox had wrapped up Lester in Spring 2014, they would have gotten a hometown discount.  But how much?  I suspect Lester wouldn’t have considered less than 6 years and less than $20MM a year at that point. By the end of 2014, word was that 6 years, $130MM wasn’t enough to woo him back to Boston.

So, the Cubbies paid a whole lot of money to get a great pitcher and a great guy. I wish them well. I wish him well. But right now, it certainly seems that not signing Lester and saving that money for Price was a good move.

But only time will tell.  To be continued…

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