Sunday, March 15, 2009


Opening Day Only 21 Days away! RedSox

Red Sox lock up Lester for five years

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The stories of Jon Lester's perseverance have long since become the stuff of baseball legend, making this latest piece of news seem relatively mundane. But for Lester and the Red Sox, it is critical.

The Sox officially announced on Sunday that they have agreed on a five-year contract with Lester worth a reported $30 million and including a $14 million team option for 2014.

"No one deserves this contract more than Jon," general manager Theo Epstein said. "It's just a great day for those of us who know him."

Lester, 25, finished 16-6 with a 3.21 ERA last season, his first full season in the big leagues. A cancer survivor, he has since developed into one of the top left-handers in the game.

"I've had a lot of ups and downs, both on and off the field," Lester said. "I've definitely learned a lot from those downs on the field, and definitely a lot from the ones off the field. I think it put me in a better position last year to succeed, because of the downs I had been through and some of the trials -- it just makes you appreciate when you go out there and actually do succeed."

The contract, rumored for most of last week, marks the third that the Sox have handed to their homegrown players this offseason. In December, Epstein inked second baseman Dustin Pedroia to a six-year, $40.5 million deal, a month after Pedroia won the American League MVP Award. Then, in January, the Sox locked up first baseman Kevin Youkilis to a four-year deal worth $40 million.

Of the homegrown players expected to play significant roles with the team this season, only closer Jonathan Papelbon, who signed a one-year contract worth $6.25 million this winter, and outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who remains multiple years away from arbitration, are not signed to long-term deals.

Lester's deal, in particular, should solidify the top of Boston's rotation for years to come. Not yet in the prime of his career, Lester already profiles as a potential 20-game winner. He threw more than 210 innings last season and should prove similarly durable throughout the duration of his contract.

More than that, both Lester and the Sox believe that the security of a long-term contract should help his production on the mound.

"The arbitration years for a starting pitcher can be a challenge," Epstein said. "I think what this contract does is allows us to all think together about the big picture. Jon knows he's going to be here, he knows his contract is set for the next five or six years, and we can manage those critical years through his mid- and late-20s together, in a way that we all hope leads to Jon dominating and us continuing to contend for World Series championships year in and year out."

"It's guaranteed," Lester said. "We have that inflow every year no matter what happens, and I think that's a big help to me and my family and the Red Sox. We have that guarantee that I'm going to go pitch."

The team's second-round pick in the 2002 First-Year Player Draft, Lester ranked third among AL left-handers with his 16 wins last season, trailing only Cliff Lee of the Indians and Joe Saunders of the Angels. He joined Babe Ruth and Lefty Grove as the only Sox lefties to record 15 wins, 30 starts, 200 innings, 150 strikeouts and a sub-3.50 ERA in a single season.

"I don't know that any of us know where he's going to end up," manager Terry Francona said. "I don't think he's ever going to want to stop getting better. We already think he's pretty good. In that second half of last year, he was one of the best pitchers in baseball."

Lester will rejoin a rotation that also includes Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka, forming a trio that won 46 games last season. Beckett has an easily vested club option on his contract for 2010, likely keeping him in Boston, and Matsuzaka is signed through the 2012 season.

"Now I know I'm going to be here for a long time," Lester said. "That was just what we wanted to do."

"We're extremely happy to have gotten this done," Epstein said. "Jon is already a really big part of this organization, and we project him to play an even greater role going forward." - Red

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