Buster Olney

Buster Olney on Hot Stove Show: 'Hard to imagine [Jon Lester signing for] less than $150 million'

December 05, 2014 - 3:02 am
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ESPN baseball analyst Buster Olney, in an interview on WEEI's Hot Stove Show, said that the bidding for free agent left-hander Jon Lester seems destined to clear $150 million. That likely outcome, in turn, will not reflect well on the Red Sox' approach to extension talks in spring training, when the team made a four-year, $70 million offer. "It was mind-boggling," said Olney. "If in fact Jon Lester ends up signing someplace else for about $150 million, and given the presence of the Cubs and the Dodgers and the Giants and the Red Sox, it's hard to imagine that it's going to be for less than $150 million, there's no question that one of the biggest things you take away from that is, my goodness the Red Sox miscalculated. That offer, whether it's the Red Sox signing Lester to $150 million or some other team doing it, your reaction is the Red Sox really misread where the market was going to end up winding up." Olney said that the industry is still trying to get a feel for what the Dodgers' late entry into the Lester sweepstakes means. "I'm surprised that the Dodgers are in this late. I think everyone is still trying to figure out how serious it is, but it certainly changes the dynamics dramatically. Imagine if you have a weekend poker game with three of your neighbors and then someone walks in with a stack of hundreds. That's kind of what's going on here," said Olney. "Let's face it, the timing of this was such that suddenly we heard from the Dodgers on the day the Dodgers were meeting with Lester, it may be the classic Red Sox-Yankees push the opponent to pay as much as possible. I think there's reason to think that, but because the Dodgers have so much money, as one general manager said to me today, they're the new Yankees. When they jump in, you've got to take them seriously just because of how much money they have. Quite frankly, if they want him, then they're probably going to get him, unless Jon Lester has a serious problem pitching with L.A. We just don't know yet if their end game is to sign Lester." Whenever Lester does sign, Olney expects a flurry of moves involving a starting pitching market that has yet to start moving. Free agents could come off the board quickly, and trade activity could be significant. "[Lester is] the biggest domino. He's the bottleneck in the whole marketplace right now," said Olney. "I will tell you that talking with some teams today and this evening, they're telling me that there's a ton of talk going on. Whereas three days ago there were a lot of teams that were just inclined to wait until the Lester thing happened, I think the fact that it may not get resolved to the middle of the winter meetings -- which is the latest timetable I heard -- I think teams are now lining up to do other things. But [James] Shields is directly affected. If Shields, let's say for argument's sake, the feeling entering the winter was Shields was most likely to end up with the Dodgers or the Red Sox, and if one of those two teams winds up with Lester, that affects Shields. Maybe the Cubs look at Shields more seriously because of the history now with Joe Maddon, now that he's their manager. I think for guys like Francisco Liriano and Brandon McCarthy, they're waiting for Jon Lester so they can kind of draft in his wake." Given the significant volume of talented pitchers who are one-year from free agency, Olney sees the potential for several desirable names to be available via trade. "Jeff Samardzija for sure. Oakland is out there, they're willing to talk to other teams. I've heard that they're probably going to slow down a little bit to wait and see what happens and how the market could be affected by what happens with Lester, because they could have more teams involved. There's no question that in some level or another Washington has told teams, look, if you want to make an offer on Jordan Zimmerman or Doug Fister, go ahead. The Reds have told other teams, if you want to talk about [Mat] Latos or [Mike] Leake, I think they're very much willing to talk about those two guys," said Olney. "You can understand [Tigers GM] Dave Dombrowski's perspective [when he said on Thursday that he has no plans to trade any of his starters]. He's protecting the value of the assets he has, so he's going to say those guys aren't available. But if they sign Max Scherzer and it turns out that's the best place for Max to get his deal, then the full expectation of other general managers is that they will trade a starter, whether that's [David] Price or [Rick] Porcello." To listen to the complete interview, click here. Among other topics addressed by Olney: On the trade value of Yoenis Cespedes: "I think the one thing that's been interesting, Cespedes has been devalued during this whole process. The fact that Oakland traded him, people began to take a stronger look at him, and his performance with Boston probably reinforced what people had come to determine in Oakland, which is he's capable of having a lot of power, but he doesn't get on base that much, he strikes out a lot. ... I don't think Jordan Zimmerman's going to move based on what I've heard from general managers. Johnny Cueto, I don't think that's the guy the Red Sox will wind up with. I think you go a notch down. Tyson Ross, who has some player control with the Padres, he had a great year in 2014 but he threw something like 45 to 50 percent sliders, which scares people to death. A lot of talent. Maybe an Ian Kennedy-type guy. Again, I don't think that's who they're going to end up with necessarily, but I think that's the menu they're drawing from. Latos and Leake, to me, are two comparable guys, and Cincinnati certainly needs some power in left field." On the expected return for pitchers with one year of pre-free agent control: "You learn in Econ 101, supply and demand. Right now there are so many high-end pitchers who are either already available or will be next fall. That really is shaping what's going on in the pitching market. ... I'm going to believe in the conspiracy theory that the Dodgers are not actually going to go after Lester. I think they're in it to push the other bidders and it's because of that saturation of the market that that's the case, because if you're Andrew Friedman, you know that in the next 12 months, David Price is going to be in the market, Johnny Cueto is going to be in the market, Jordan Zimmerman, Fister, Samardzija, all the names we've mentioned. ... Andrew Friedman has made his career working with efficiency. Why would you be the guy who paid the retail price on the first big expensive piece to come off the board? That's what doesn't fit for me. I think that whole question -- in the past, we were conditioned to, 'Wow, you're trading Jeff Samardzija, you should get a ton in return.' But with so many guys available, I think there's been some frustration for those teams looking to market the guys who have one year of control before they become free agents next fall, and there are just so many of them."