One of the things that struck me most, coming back to the Red Sox after a month away, is that this still looks like a good baseball team. The improvement of Jackie Bradley and the banishment of AJ Pierzynski have erased two of the lineup’s holes. The bullpen is still lights out. Jon Lester is still an ace and a there’s talent for the other rotation slots. I’m having more fun watching this Sox team than I expected based on their record while I was away. I’d be sad if they chucked the season.
The projections agree with this broad impression. Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections rate the Red Sox as the second best team in the AL East and give us a roughly five percent chance of winning the division. So punting the season means giving up on a one-in-twenty shot. That’s not a crazy thing to do, but it requires a good reason.
As best as I can tell, the reason to punt is easy to sum up. The Red Sox could get an A-/B+ prospect for Jon Lester. We have a true ace, in the midst of an excellent season, whom we could sell to the highest bidder. No other Red Sox player would really draw a true prospect, though we could probably get something for Uehara. Talking about trading Peavy or Drew or Miller is superfluous. The return on those players would be nowhere close to justifying giving up on the season.
But I don’t want to trade Lester. I want to re-sign Lester, and surely the Red Sox front office agrees. While from a pure economic self-interest perspective trading Lester should have little effect on his decision on his next contract, I think that’s oversimplistic. Lester has been a Red Sox his whole career. The affective link between Boston and Lester is a big part of what could keep him with the Sox. You break that link with a trade, and there’s a meaningful drop in the chances of re-signing him. So even the possible upside of punting comes with a downside. I would rather work in the young kids to fill the holes as needed and keep playing competitive baseball.