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At what price does Jon Lester make sense for the Pirates?

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SOUTH HILLS – The Pirates have emerged as a dark horse to land Red Sox ace Jon Lesteraccording to Yahoo!

The Red Sox are still asking a king’s ransom for what amounts to a two-month rental of Lester, who is a free agent after the season and would like to remain with the Red Sox. The Trib’s Rob Biertempfel reported Tuesday the Pirates have reached out to the Red Sox regarding Lester and that the Red Sox are seeking two top 10 prospects for Lester. Josh Bell is believed to be at the center of talks and the Red Sox might also be demanding Tyler Glasnow be included.

Lester is the type of player who could tip the balance in a closely-contested NL Central race. But at what cost is he worth acquiring?

You probably know Lester is an excellent pitcher. He’s striking out a batter per inning and walking just two per nine. He gets bonus points for being left-handed, which plays extremely well at PNC Park. You probably know the Pirates’ starting pitching has been up and down. The Pirates’ have starting depth, but their starters have also combined for the lowest WAR in baseball. (I do think Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano have to be in line for better second halves  … but the Pirates could use a starting pitcher without a doubt.) You probably have heard it’s a seller’s market out there so the Red Sox can make crazy demands.

This is what one scout told Biertempfel: “He would immediately become their No. 1 (pitcher). His control has been very good. His pitches are in an elite division and his cutter is still his main weapon. He’s very polished. He brings the ‘it’ factor to a winning club.”

lester

Sure Lester is great, but at what cost?

 

Lester could pitch the Pirates into the 2014 playoffs and perhaps deep into the playoffs.

But for two months, perhaps three months of Lester, what is an acceptable cost?

A package of  Bell and a B prospect? Yes. Bell and Glasnow? I can’t get on board to advocate for that.  And I’d be surprised if Pirates GM Neal Huntington would be inclined to do such a deal as he maintains he won’t trade too much of tomorrow for today. That’s a lot of tomorrow. Glasnow might break. He might never pan out. But he has a special arm. Plus fastball, plus curveball at times and he’s developing a changeup. He might be nothing … or he might be six-plus years of Justin Verlander for the Pirates.

Bell is have a breakout season and has emerged as a fine prospect. Because of the Pirates’ young, controlled, talented outfield trading Bell at some point soon makes a lot of sense. He’s blocked unless he changes positions. As we wrote about last week, the Pirates have surplus of OF and SP talent and have to push some chips in at some point.

But the Pirates have a greater potential window of opportunity than this season. Any one postseason berth is tantamount to a dice roll. The key to title chasing is making consistent postseason berths.  The Pirates have a chance to advance to the 2014 postseason without Lester. The NL Central is entirely winnable with the Pirates’ current roster. The Pirates also have the Andrew McCutchen window of opportunity open thru 2018. And to maximize the McCutchen window, they need pitching and most of it has to be home-grown as we know what the costs are of free agent pitching. That means the Pirates should be highly protective of Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow and Nick Kingham.

If the Pirates were a piece away from being the clear top dog in the NL, if they were the Oakland A’s of the NL, I might think differently. (Even then I’m not sure. I was shocked the A’s gave up Addison Russell for 1+ years of Jeff Samardzija.)

If Lester had another year remaining I might think differently about giving up Bell and Glasnow.

But Glasnow and  Bell for two months of Lester is too rich a package, for me. If the Pirates can get the price down to Bell and a B chip then that makes a lot of sense for both parties. And there’s reason to believe the Pirates can get the Price down.

MLB.com had the Pirates owning the richest collection of prospects among contenders. The Pirates don’t need to bid against themselves . There’s a chance Bell + a B piece will be the best package for Lester at the deadline.What I think Huntington is cognizant of is it takes years to build a farm system and develop a quality prospect. You can tear it down in one day with a poor trade.

This could be a matter of playing poker  to the final minute and it’s going to be fun to watch play out.

What do you think a reasonable price for Lester is? Do you think 2014 is a special window of opportunity for the Pirates … or are you more concerned with a longer-term view?

- TS

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