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Free agent profile: Jon Lester and the Giants

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Jon Lester is hanging out with Bruce Bochy in Atlanta today. Maybe he gets stuffed in a trunk and driven to San Francisco, you never know.

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Jon Lester is meeting with the Giants on Monday. The Giants never met with Jacoby Ellsbury. They never met with Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols. This is probably the first meeting they've had with one of the offseason's premium free agents since Barry Zito. So this is exciting.

Except, note how disappointing all of those names are right now. Ellsbury was underwhelming last year, and he's only getting older. Fielder and Pujols were mostly disasters, with Pujols getting $30 million when he's 41 ... in seven years. And the Zito Era was not without its charms, but he didn't pitch very well for the bulk of it. So this is horrifying.

It's horrixciting, then. If the Giants spend hundreds of millions on a pitcher, we'll know exactly how stupid that is, and yet we'll get to watch that pitcher do good pitcher things for a short while, at least. I like good pitchers doing good pitcher things. It makes the long baseball season that much better.

Why would the Giants want to sign a pitcher like Lester? Well, let us count the ways.

Point

Lester is good at throwing baseballs
Forget the Zito comparisons. Just because they're both left-handers coming over from the A's doesn't mean anything. Well, it means something when you're looking for jokes and general giggles. But the two pitchers were trending in different directions before hitting free agency.


Barry Zito Jon Lester
K/BB ratio three years before free agency 2.01 2.44
K/BB ratio two years before FA 1.92 2.64
K/BB ratio year before FA 1.53 4.58



FIP three years before FA 4.50 4.11
FIP two years before FA 4.34 3.59
FIP year before FA 4.89 2.80



K/9 three years before FA 6.9 7.3
K/9 three years before FA 6.7 7.5
K/9 year before FA 6.1 9.0

It's almost like that Zito deal was batshit. Almost.

Lester, on the other hand, is improving. He set a career mark for walks per nine innings, while boosting his strikeout numbers to what they were a few years ago.

They have a need in the rotation
Reminder from this quote from three weeks ago:

"Timmy, I see him going back in the rotation. We have a need there. That’s fair to say."

Signing, oh, Paul Maholm isn't going to push Lincecum from the rotation. Signing Lester, though, wouldn't be ambiguous in the slightest, and he would send Lincecum to the bullpen instantly. Unless the Giants send Yusmeiro Petit to the bullpen, which is what would probably happen. Which ... dammit, Giants.

Still, if the Giants open the 2015 season with Gregor Blanco in left and Matt Duffy at third, they won't be as bad off as if they open the season with Tim Lincecum in the rotation and another pitcher pretending he can fill Petit's big spot-starter shoes. If I had to choose one upgrade for the Giants, it would be in the rotation, even with Pablo Sandoval leaving and Michael Morse likely to leave. If they're going to spend all of their money on one upgrade, pitching would be the way to go. I guess.

There isn't a hitter as likely to help the Giants as much as Lester would help
There isn't a Lester-equivalent hitter out there, in other words. With Nelson Cruz and Yasmany Tomas signing, the top hitter on the market is probably Chase Headley, who would cost many years and many millions to help his new team win less than Lester would. Might as well spend more millions on the better player. That's the thinking, at least.

After Headley is, I don't know, Colby Rasmus. After him is Jed Lowrie or something. The Giants could sign Headley, Alex Rios, and Brandon McCarthy for the same price as they could sign Lester, but those three probably don't add up to Lester's value next year.

Lester's fairly safe, as far as aging pitchers go

Nick Cafardo had an interesting note in his Sunday column for the Boston Globe:

The Red Sox have studied the health of pitchers over 30, and the conclusion has been that pitchers who are healthy in their 20s usually are healthy in their 30s.

If that's the case, well, Lester has certainly been consistent, making 30 starts or more for each of the last seven seasons. Pitching in Fenway Park (and on the road in Yankee Stadium, Camden Yards, and Rogers Centre, too) hurt his raw stats, but he'd probably be a dynamo in the National League for a few years.

Add up the above, and it sure seems like Lester is a great fit. Let's look at the counterpoint, though. What's the argument against?

Counterpoint

You can't be serious, signing a pitcher in his 30s to a long-term deal is a blunder that teams make again and again and again and again and it doesn't work out, it just doesn't, so stop it, stop it now, Giants, and don't forget the last time you signed a pitcher to a seven-year deal, you fools, what is wrong with you, I can't even prevent run-on sentences I'm so irritiated
Compelling argument, but a little too screamy for my tastes.

That's basically the argument against. Lester makes the Giants better now, but there's a very real chance that when it's time to lock up Brandon Belt (or Brandon Crawford or Joe Panik or Andrew Susac or Angel Villalona or Antoan Richardson or pick whatever player will be ready to bolt over the next seven years), that a mega-contract to Lester would kill the Giants, especially when combined with the Buster Posey and Matt Cain deals. And if the Giants stop winning and the fans stop coming? Brrr, that Lester deal would last for a long, depressing stretch.

It's all about the instant gratification, then. Is this the window for the Giants, and if so, should they spend on the premium talent now and worry about the financial hellscape of the future when it actually happens, considering the team might not have the win-now pieces they do right now?

Probably.

If the Giants can actually develop some young players between now and then, that would go a long way toward easing the burden caused by a mega-contract to Lester. If the Giants don't spend the money on Lester, they'll spend it on Scherzer. If they don't spend it on Scherzer, they'll sprinkle it around the league. And if they don't do that, they'll have concluded the first offseason in a decade in which they've announced their intent to spend, and they'll have done it with a distinct lack of spending. That would be a mighty odd way to go about things.

Jon Lester is meeting with the Giants on Monday. You can freak out however you wish. I'm going with nervoustrigued, myself.