The Jon Lester sweepstakes are shaping up as a showdown between baseball’s Hatfields and McCoys, the Larry Lucchino Red Sox and the Theo Epstein Cubs.
If those teams both are serious about Lester — and they sure seem to be — then none of the other competition may matter. Still, other clubs will want in on Lester, too.
One of those teams could be the Braves.
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John Hart, the team’s president of baseball operations, says the Braves are not pursuing top-tier free-agent starters such as Lester. But Hart probably should add, “right now.”
Lester, 31, lives in Sharpsburg, Ga., outside Atlanta. The Braves need starting pitching. And if they clear enough payroll — something they actively are trying to do — then their entire approach to the offseason could change.
The Braves indeed have touched base with Lester’s representatives, according to major-league sources. Their contact might only be a matter of due diligence. But they would be foolish to outright ignore a local resident, no?
Of course, the Braves and other clubs probably should best stay away if the Cubs and Red Sox stage a bidding war over Lester, a pitcher with strong ties to the top executives of both teams.
Lester overcame non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and became a star with Boston when Epstein was the team’s GM. But Epstein, whose relationship with Lucchino often was contentious, left the Red Sox for the Cubs after the 2011 season.
Lucchino, who remains club president, played a role in the Sox low-balling Lester with a four-year, $70 million offer in spring training. Ah, but that was then, and this is now.
The Red Sox, after trading Lester to the Athletics on July 31, want their lefty back. According to published reports, Lester and his agents will meet with Sox ownership soon. According to Bruce Levine of WSCR-AM in Chicago, the Cubs will host Lester for a visit and tour next week.
John Henry, principal owner of the Sox, isn’t keen on long-term contracts for pitchers over 30. Epstein has spoken recently about the risk of signing pitchers to $100-million plus contracts.
OK, but at this point, does anyone seriously expect either team to back off Lester?
Hatfields. McCoys. Good luck to the Braves and any other club that might want to jump in.