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Could Lester be to the Pirates what Sabathia was to 2008 Brewers?

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SOUTH HILLS – With the Jon Lester trade rumors buzzing I asked a MLB talent evaluator this morning what a sensible price for Lester would be for the Pirates. His answer?

Josh Bell

Nick Kingham

and

Jacoby Jones

He said that would be “very reasonable.” Would it? For two months of Lester, in a vacuum, it is an awful lot. Too much. But we’re not operating in a vacuum. We’re operating in a seller’s market, which will be the new normal with the second wild cards, unless the trade deadline is pushed back. We’re talking about an ace (see price for Jeff Samardzija). We’re not operating in a vacuum because a piece like Lester could tilt the balance toward the Pirates in a very winnable NL Central. And in case you’re not aware, the Pirates haven’t often been in contention entering August very often.

Couple thoughts …

For starters, I was surprised by the overwhelming negative reaction to the cost when I put the scout’s take on Twitter. I’d say 90 percent of Twitter responses thought it was too much. Yes, it’s a lot. But 15 years ago I don’t think think there was a proper appreciation of the value of young talent and the percentage might have been flipped. We’ve come a long way, baby.

But I also wonder if we’ve gone too far.

What if the Pirates passed on that price and they passed on a chance to land their version of the 2008 C.C. Sabathia?

When the Indians traded Sabathia, their ace and free-agent-to-be, to the Brewers on July 7, 2008 the Brewers were one game out of the wild card and four games out of the division. They had not made the postseason in 26 years.

The Brewers surrendered what at the time was a hefty price: Matt LaPorta (a consensus top 20 overall prospect), Michael Brantley (the B piece) and two other prospects in Rob Bryson and Zach Jackson.

You’ve probably never heard of Bryson or Jackson. LaPorta was a significant bust. Brantley has developed into an impact player this season … six years after the deal.

Sabathia dominated for the Brewers. He went 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA for the Brewers in 2008. The Brewers won the wild card by one game. Sabathai was a lot better in the NL and Lester would be even more effective trading the AL East in for the NL Central.

Was the trade worth it for the Brewers? Yes.

Not only did the Brewers make the playoffs, it appeared to build credibility within the fan base. The Brewers breached 3 million in attendance for the first time in 2008. They hit 3 million again in 2009 and 2011. In fact, they have dipped below 2.5 million since the Sabathia trade. Now, that’s not all a byproduct of that deal  but it did usher in an era where the Brewers became aggressive, later acquiring Zack Greinke in a similar deal.

It’s entirely possible Lester is the difference between making the postseason and not making it 2014. It’s also possible a better Francisco Liriano and healthy Gerrit Cole are enough to get Priates into the dance.

Lester’s been the ace on two World Series-winning clubs. He can win a big game. It’s also possible that the Pirates don’t have this opportunity again for a while (though I do think they’ll be competitive for most of the decade.) The Cardinals aren’t going anywhere and while the Reds and Brewers might slip, the Cubs could become a powerhouse.

So is the price worth the potential return in 2014?

It’s a tough call.

Bell is an ideal trading chip for the Pirates. The Pirates don’t have an OF need. They should move Bell at some point. I’d trade him in a package for Lester. I’m surprised by how many are enamored with Jones. Yes, he’s a great athlete but he has a 26 percent K rate in A-ball and he’s a college product not a high schooler. He’s also not a shortstop. His upside might be Drew Stubbs.

The piece that gives me pause is Kingham. Kingham is not Tyler Glasnow or Jameson Taillon. The evaluator projects him as a future 4. Regardless, the Pirates are going to need future 3s and 4s  during the McCutchen Window. I like Kingham’s frame. The evaluator likes his delivery. He’s not going to win Cy Youngs but he could give a club 200 competent innings per year. Nothing to sneeze at.

It would be an expansive cost but that’s not the question. This is not be played out in vacuum. Is it sensible given the context?

- TS

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