Lester looking for long term deal?

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This entry was posted on 2/21/2009 1:13 AM and is filed under uncategorized.

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Jon Lester finally established his place in the grand scheme of Boston things during a breakout 16 win season for the Sox last year, and he wouldn’t mind cementing his permanent place in Boston this spring.

The 25-year-old lefty hasn’t agreed to a one-year contract yet this season – his last year under the complete control of the ballclub before arbitration kicks in next season – and a potential long term pact is something that’s “been bounced around a little bit” by both Lester and Boston’s management team.

The big lefty watched young teammates Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis while they both signed lucrative long term deals with the Sox that will keep in Red Stockings for an extended period of time, and he has also envisioned himself as someone that could be pitching from the Fenway Park mound for a long, long time.

Youkilis, in particular, talked about potentially ending his career as a member of the Red Sox after signing his four year deal, and Lester is another young Sox player that doesn’t appear to believe that the grass is greener anywhere else other than Fenway Park.

“It’s one of those deals where hopefully when and if they approach me we can work something out to not only be a Red Sox for the next four or five years, but for my whole career” said Lester. “I love playing here. I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else, so hopefully we can get something done if they want to get something done. Then I can be here for a long time.”

That’s music to the ears of many in Red Sox Nation that watched Lester grow from unfulfilled potential to heat-throwing left-hander over the course of last season, a huge step forward for a young man that’s already defeated cancer and triumphed in a title-clinching game in the 2007 World Series.

The high end of a potential Lester pact would be something in the mold of Ervin Santana’s recent four-year, $30 million deal with a $13 million option for a fifth season and Adam Wainright’s four-year $15 million contract with respective $9 million and $12 million club options would be at the lower end of the spectrum. The guess is that Lester would fall somewhere in between with at least a five-year deal in the works if anything gets signed at all.

The big lefty keeps growing and maturing into the large-framed pitcher he was always meant to be, and has packed on a solid 20 pounds over the last calendar year to put him in the neighborhood of 6-foot-2 and 220-pounds. With the solid pitching frame and a golden left arm that allows him to maintain mid-90’s heat and darting cut fastballs with unique slider action, Lester topped out at a team-high 210 1/3 innings last summer along with 16 wins, a 3.21 ERA, 152 strikeouts and a .256 batting average against in 33 uninterrupted starts.

By the time the postseason had begun Lester was the de facto ace of Boston’s pitching staff and flashed the kind of big game potential he’ll have for years to come in a Boston uniform. The big lefty was obviously fighting fatigue after the longest season in his baseball career, but he still managed to rack up a 2.36 ERA and 26 strikeouts in three gut-checking playoff starts in the ALDS and ALCS.

“I battled my butt off,” said Lester. “Any time you go to the playoffs you learn something about yourself as a person and a competitor. In the playoffs you feel like crap in between starts, but when you get on the mound you don’t feel anything. It’s a lot of innings, but you just keep battling through. You think about things in between starts and [ask] ‘am I even going to be able to pitch’ or you’re sore or whatever, but when you get on that mound you don’t feel anything but that adrenaline going.”

“I learned in the past that you don’t have to have your best stuff to win. I was winning ballgames in ’06 and ’07 without my best stuff, and now I feel like I have my whole repertoire back. I can go right after guys and I don’t have to feel afraid of them.”

Many have wondered whether the Sox will back off Lester’s workload after he topped out at 237 total innings (regular season and postseason) last season, but the young hurler feels the strongest he’s ever been headed into big league spring training.

“The thing that was nice about this year is that I’m coming in at full strength,” said Lester. “Last year I still had some gains to make and an uphill climb to make. It’s nice to come into this year and not have to make that uphill climb. I’m kind of up on top and I can just go from there.

“It makes it easier to work on things and get better, rather than just worry about if I’m strong enough right now,” added Lester. “[My arm] didn’t feel fatigued or worn out this offseason at all. I’ve been totally normal coming into camp.”

Where does “go from there” lead for Lester?

Obviously he hopes the setting is the Fens for the foreseeable future, but pitching coach John Farrell envisions a guy with Lester’s talent, makeup and solid mechanics as a solid No. 2 pitcher in a big league rotation for the long haul.

“Last year is what I would consider the first in a number of productive years for him,” said Farrell. “When you look at a guy his age and what he was able to do last year, you’d like to think there is 8-10 years of 16-20 wins a season for Jon Lester, and I don’t think that’s a stretch at all for him.

“He’s doing to do whatever he can to prepare himself to withstand that workload,” added Farrell. “You’re talking about a No. 2 type starter in the American League and we feel very confident that he’ll be able to reach that year in and year out.”

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