Jon Lester’s comments last winter about potentially accepting a hometown discount to remain with the Boston Red Sox were refreshing. It’s rare that a professional athlete is willing to forgo a bigger payday in favor of other factors.
Lester never signed the team-friendly contract many anticipated, causing the Red Sox to eventually trade the pitcher to the Oakland Athletics before last week’s Major League Baseball non-waiver trade deadline. It’s reasonable to think Lester’s comments were genuine, though, as some players simply are wired differently.
Take former Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell, for example.
Lowell could have signed a larger contract on the open market after the 2007 season, yet he inked a three-year, $38 million deal to stay with the Red Sox. As Lowell recently explained to WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford, it all boils down to what an individual wants out of his baseball career.
“For me, it was no doubt I loved playing in a real energized baseball atmosphere every day,” Lowell told Bradford. “I loved (that) the city was into the team every single day. All of the stuff that people say in Boston that some guys didn’t like, the non-stop talking baseball, that’s what I crave. Maybe it is similar somewhere else, but I hadn’t seen it.
“Don’t get me wrong, my family was comfortable. My family loved being in Boston. But that baseball atmosphere, it was so overwhelming positive for me. I knew a good contract was coming either way, but I wanted to be in the situation where I enjoyed playing baseball the most, and it was there.”
Lester’s situation is far different from Lowell’s. Lester was drafted by the Red Sox and spent his entire eight-plus-year major league career in Boston before being shipped to Oakland last week. Plus, Lester is a legitimate ace whose next contract will far exceed the four-year, $48 million offer that Lowell turned down from the Philadelphia Phillies to remain in Boston seven years ago.
There are some similarities between the former Red Sox, though. Both had a distinct passion for donning a Boston uniform, and both overcame cancer early in their careers, which, according to Lowell, likely influenced their baseball mindsets to some extent. After all, when baseball is taken away — even temporarily at a young age — it’s bound to influence one’s appreciation for the game.
Lowell doesn’t know what the future holds for Lester, whom he shared a clubhouse with for parts of five seasons. But he realizes the negotiations will be interesting given the unique bond established between the player and the organization — a realization heightened by his own experiences.
“Financially, (Lester) made it already,” Lowell told Bradford. “He made it with the first contract. The numbers are going to be staggering, so what can he do with $130 million that he can’t do with the $75 million? Jonny isn’t a guy who has four Ferraris. He’s a down-to-earth guy. So he’s looking at the situation for himself, where he’s going to be comfortable. He’s a competitor, so he’s going to want to be in a competitive atmosphere, and then what his family likes. For me in ’07, all three of those came down to Boston.”
Lowell acknowledged in his conversation with Bradford that there still exists a line in negotiations. For instance, the former third baseman probably wouldn’t have signed a two-year contract with the Red Sox despite his desire to remain in Boston. It’s a business and there’s something to be said for receiving a fair deal. Only Lester — and his family — will know what “fair” entails this offseason.
“What he is going to look for in the offseason is comfort for his family, because the baseball is going to be there no matter where he goes,” Lowell said. “He’s going to get the ball every fifth day no matter what. I think he’s going to go to a place where the baseball is a comfortable situation, meaning the city.”