By Steve Silverman
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Jon Lester is going to be starting on Opening Day in 2015 for the New York Yankees.
Count on it.
The Boston Red Sox are doing everything they can to turn their team into the Chicago Cubs. Lester was pulled from his start on Wednesday because he was getting ready to be traded, and if recent tweets from baseball cognoscenti are correct, John Lackey could also be moving as well.
The Red Sox have gone from worst (2012) to first (2013) and back down to worst this year. They have a poor record and they have played even worse, so general manager Ben Cherington and those above him in the front office are preparing to tear their team apart so they can collect prospects, draft picks and whatever else they deem valuable.
What a mistake. What a disaster.
But the Yankees are likely to benefit next offseason. While Cherington would trade Lester — and presumably Lackey — to any team other than the Yankees, the Bombers will have a chance to sign Boston’s ace left-hander as a free agent.
In case you didn’t know, Lester will have the opportunity to cash in on the free agent market days after this year’s World Series comes to an end.
If he doesn’t suffer an egregious injury between now and the end of the year, the 30-year-old Lester is going to get paid like one of the best pitchers in the game.
You might have thought the Red Sox would have done something about this. They lost Jacoby Ellsbury to the Yankees weeks after their improbable World Series triumph last year. If you were going to make a short list of the players most responsible for that World Series win over the St. Louis Cardinals, it would probably be any combination of Lester, Ellsbury, David Ortiz and Koji Uehara.
As soon as they trade Lester, 50 percent of that list will be gone.
Lester has gone out of his way to keep it above board even though Boston insulted him with a low-ball $70 million offer during spring training. They kept a ruse of an open dialogue regarding a future contract open until last week, but that door has closed and they are prepared to move him.
Lester, for his part, has said he is not against getting traded and then coming back to the Red Sox as a free agent in the offseason.
Even if Lester believes that at the moment — and I doubt that he does — he’ll sing a different tune in November.
He’ll have time to think with the benefit of a little distance. Guys like Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Mike Napoli and Johnny Gomes may be his teammates and he may not want to leave them, but business is business. When the Yankees come calling with top dollar, as they did last year with Ellsbury, it will be time for Lester to make a prudent decision for himself and the many future generations of the Lester family.
The Red Sox are supposed to be one of Major League Baseball’s glamour franchises. They have been the Yankees’ rivals for decades, and the temperature on that conflict has been white hot for 40-plus years.
Red Sox fans want to know why owner John Henry is suddenly capitulating and why he seems bound and determined to turn the Carmines into the bumbling Chicago Cubs.
It is not a question that Brian Cashman and the Yankees have to consider.
In the last season of Derek Jeter, the Yankees have a decent chance of running down the Baltimore Orioles for first place in the division or the Toronto Blue Jays for the second wild-card spot. That’s pretty good for a team that doesn’t have CC Sabathia at the top of the rotation.
Could the Yankees make a run at the brass ring? It’s possible, but not likely. The A’s and Angels appear to be the American League’s two best teams, and you can’t count out the Tigers.
But the big payoff could come next year, after the Yankees, presumably, make a run at Lester. Once they come at him with the heavy artillery, he will have a difficult time saying no.
Close your eyes and you can almost see Lester in pinstripes. He’ll be standing on the mound in Yankee Stadium on Opening Day.
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