Yesterday, word broke that the Boston Red Sox had made an offer to free agent lefty Jon Lester, and Nick Cafardo subsequently reported that the offer was for six years, and something in the $110 to $120 million range. To my mind, the offer was not unreasonably low, given expectations that Lester would ultimately get at least six years and at least $20 million per year. But, characterizing the offer as “not unreasonably low” was predicated on the idea that it was a mere “opening” offer, subject to ensuing negotiation.
Well, to the extent you were hoping that the Red Sox were trying to lowball Lester once again, and wouldn’t budge off that first step, you should know that it sounds like Red Sox sources descended soon after Cafardo’s report to tell the baseball world that, indeed, it was just an opening offer.
WEEI reports that the Red Sox are amenable to negotiating that offer, which a source characterized as, “[an] initial offseason proposal [that] was part of a more complex discussion about potential contract parameters.” In other words, not only was the offer not as simple as, for example, six years and $110 million, but it was also just the start of discussions.
As Peter Abraham put it:
Keep in mind that rarely is an offer of the “take it or leave it” variety. Usually room from negotiation. #RedSox started at $70M, after all
— Pete Abraham (@PeteAbe) November 19, 2014
If you view the Red Sox as having something of an inside track on Lester – and, based on my sense of things (and my own interest in self-protection), I do – then all of this should have been expected. It makes sense to start the offer on the lowest end of what you think Lester might accept, let him meet with other teams to get a sense of the market, and then try to close the deal by approaching the top of the market (which is hopefully artificially deflated by your own low-ish opening offer).
Will it get done? Or can another team still successfully woo Lester? Or do the Red Sox not have the inside track after all?
Well, for what it’s worth, Buster Olney continues to hear that the Cubs – remember when they were everyone’s “favorite” for Lester? – are a popular predicted destination:
A lot of team executives follow the bidding of other teams like fans, and many predicting the Cubs will be the team that signs Jon Lester.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) November 20, 2014
You can only take so much from that, of course (something something Russell Martin something). Let’s assume those executives had all of the available information. Their prediction still might be wrong, because it’s entirely possible that, as of this moment, even Lester doesn’t yet know where he’s signing.
At the most, maybe you can let that information convince you that the Cubs do still really have a shot in this thing, certain recent speculation notwithstanding. Just keep your head about you.
As for the meaning of Boston’s offer and the negotiability thereof, here’s one thing you can just about take to the bank: assuming the Red Sox are willing to go higher than 6/$120 million, as it sounds like they are, and assuming that, if all offers are equal, Lester will go back to Boston (fair assumption), to actually land Lester, the Cubs’ final offer will have to be very significant. Imagine the Red Sox cap their offer at six years and $130 million. I could see them going much higher, but let’s put it there to be conservative. How high would the Cubs have to go – again, assuming Boston is Lester’s preference – to convince him to come to Chicago? 6/$140 million? 6/$150 million? 7/$165 million?
I couldn’t say just yet, because it feels like we’re still relatively early in this process.
Oh, and as for the latest non-Cubs, non-Red Sox contestant? It doesn’t sound like the Braves believe they have much of a shot:
John Hart on #Braves meeting with Lester today: "Is it a long shot? Yeah, it's a long shot … (but) we're keeping all the doors open."
— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) November 20, 2014
For now, the Red Sox, Cubs, Cardinals, and Yankees seem like the most realistic possibilities.