As speculated here last week, the Braves will meet Thursday with free agent starting pitcher Jon Lester.
Lester is one of the top pitchers on the free agent market. He is expected to seek a long-term contract that will make him one of the highest-paid pitchers in the game. The Braves have said they were not interested in competing for the high-end pitchers, but there are reasons that make Lester a special case.
Lester lives in Sharpsburg, Georgia, which is between 35-40 miles from Turner Field. He has always wanted to play for the Braves. In 2006, the Braves almost traded for Lester when Andruw Jones was placed on waivers and then-GM John Schuerholz talked to Boston about a deal that would have netted the Braves Lester, Coco Crisp and Craig Hansen.
Also, since Lester was traded by Boston to Oakland, a team that signs Lester will not have to surrender a first round draft pick. The Braves want to hold on to their first round pick next year to help a weak farm system.
Lester pitched nine seasons with Boston before being dealt to the A's in July. He's 116-67 in 253 games (252 starts) with an ERA of 3.58. Lester is a three-time All-Star and has finished fourth for the Cy Young Award twice (2010 and 2014).
Here is a quote Lester made after being traded to Oakland that might matter to the Braves: “The [Red Sox] told me [after the trade to Oakland], ‘We’re going to be aggressive. You’re going to get blown out of the water by some of these [other] offers,’” Lester said. “I’m like, ‘I don’t need to be blown out of the water.’ Why would I need to be blown out of the water? That doesn’t make or break your decision, at least for me. I’m not going to the highest bidder. I’m going to the place that makes me and my family happy. If that’s Boston, it’s Boston.”
So if Lester has always wanted to pitch for the Braves, as we have heard, and if he's going to the place that makes him and his family happy and if he lives close to Atlanta, those a few reasons the Braves need to meet with the left-hander starter.
Lester could fill a major role of a veteran in the Atlanta rotation. He'll be 31 next season. Right now, the Braves have three players who will be 24 years old next season (Julio Teheran, Shelby Miller and Alex Wood). Mike Minor is the elder statesman at 27.
The Braves should be able to afford Lester, especially if the 2015 season salary is a bit lower and the contract is more back-loaded. The team will have more resources after Dan Uggla comes off the books after next season. Also, more revenue is expected from the new stadium, which opens in 2017.
Also, the Braves shed almost $10 million off the payroll Monday with the trade of Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden to the Cardinals. They could clip more cash off the payroll if Justin Upton is traded, which is expected.
The Yankees, Red Sox and Cubs have been considered other teams in on Lester.
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Braves to meet with Jon Lester
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