As Bryan covered wonderfully last week, the disappointing play of the Red Sox lately has been immensely frustrating, and probably to no one more than themselves. That doesn't make our annoyance as fans irrelevant, but it is useful to keep in mind. So much of the frustration, too, comes from the simple fact that we all know that the Red Sox are better than this. It's basically the same team that just won a World Series, and now they're in fourth. Without expectations, we might not be happy, but we wouldn't be mad.
And it's pretty low to be mad at Shane Victorino for being hurt, or Jackie Bradley for not immediately figuring out major-league fastballs, or Felix Doubront for hurting his shoulder. (For not telling anyone he hurt his shoulder, maybe. But not the injury itself.) Clay Buchholz isn't forgetting how to throw his changeup on purpose, nor is Edward Mujica trying to throw batting practice fastballs every time out. Lousy performance on the field is terrible to watch, but there's very little action that can be taken directly to fix it. There's not much point in yelling about it, really.
So what, then, can we yell about? Well, that brings us to the guy in the picture. As of this moment, Jon Lester will become a free agent at the end of this season, and given Lester's career and the state of Boston's pitching going forward, I can't think of a single good reason why. But let's at least try to suss it out, since we are assuming that the Red Sox front office is not, in fact, deeply stupid.
One possibility is that Lester hasn't warranted the sort of contract extension you'd give to an ace. This argument has come up a lot on sports radio and among the lesser columnists, which should give you a good idea of its actual worth. But sure, Jon Lester isn't Clayton Kershaw, nor is he Pedro Martinez. I don't think that's a terrible libel upon the guy. So who are Lester's comparables, and do they put him anywhere near ace status? Let's go to the ever-invaluable Play Index!
For those who didn't click, I went simple, tried to find every pitcher in the AL who's had 1200 IP, 1200 K, and an ERA under 3.70 since 2008. It's a short list. Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, James Shields (how's Wil Myers doing these days?), and Lester. That's quite a nice list, and you'll notice that two of those guys recently received extensions in the $175 million range. Is Lester worth that? Verlander's had a better peak and Hernandez is younger, but those sort of numbers could (and frankly should) be on the table; if not from the Red Sox, then certainly from some other team. New York just threw that much at Masahiro Tanaka before he'd thrown a single MLB pitch, does it seem silly to imagine them doing the same for a guy with Lester's pedigree?
Photo Credit: Brett Davis -- USA Today Sports
It's also possible that Boston has decided that with their strong farm, they don't need to extend Lester, but can instead rely on the young arms coming up to take his place. After all, why extend a guy heading over the hill into the dark twilight of his thirties when you have young, fresh arms on the horizon? There's only one tiny problem with this plan: it's entirely based on the assumption that anyone on the farm right now is as good, or will be as good, as Jon Lester. And they're not. And they won't.
Brandon Workman and Rubby De La Rosa are already serviceable major league pitchers. Matt Barnes and Allen Webster will probably be serviceable major league pitchers. And everyone else in the system is an unknown. Boston has an assortment of good mid-rotation starters on the farm, which puts them ahead of just about everyone else in the game. But you don't abandon an ace for the possibility that a mid-rotation guy turns into Cliff Lee.
(While we're at it, let's look at the big-league rotation going forward. John Lackey's here through 2015 if the Sox exercise that elbow-clause option. Jake Peavy has an option, but hasn't done anything to warrant its pickup. The long-term veteran anchors of the rotation are Clay Buchholz and Felix Doubront. A cold breeze, heavy with foreboding, actually moaned through the eaves of my building as I typed that sentence.)