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Jon Lester: Red Sox ‘could have very easily traded me away’

10.04.13 at 8:33 am ET
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In a sense, when Jon Lester takes the mound for Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Rays, he will be facing the team that helped to assure that the left-hander would be back with the Red Sox in 2013.

During the offseason, the Red Sox and Royals explored the possibility of sending Lester to the Royals in a deal that would have brought outfield prospect Wil Myers to Boston. Lester received first-hand confirmation of the chatter.

“You obviously hear it. You get the phone calls and texts from people about it. [Royals manager Ned Yost] is actually a pretty good friend of mine. I flat-out called him one day and was like, ‘Hey, what do you got on this?’ He said, ‘Yeah, we’re trying to make it work.’ I just said, ‘OK,’ ” Lester said on Thursday. “At the end of the day, it’s a game. You enjoy doing it. But when it comes down to it, it’s a business. You have to understand that. You can’t take it personal. Nothing that [GM Ben Cherington] has done or that [former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein] has done in the past have I ever taken personal. That’s just kind of the nature of what we do. You can’t come into spring training with a chip on your shoulder and say, ‘[Expletive], they tried to trade me,’ sulk and complain about it. It is what it is. You can’t worry about it. If it went through and I was a Kansas City Royal, then I would have done the same things over there that I’ve done here for the past seven years, try to win games.”

That didn’t happen for a variety of reasons, including the Sox’ belief that Lester could be a key contributor to the organization’s turnaround and the fact that the Royals seemed to have a better fit with the Rays, with the two teams reaching a deal that sent James Shields, Wade Davis and Elliott Johnson to Kansas City in exchange for Myers, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery and Patrick Leonard.

Because he had no control over whether or not he might be traded, Lester tried not to get caught up in an emotional roller coaster regarding whether or not he might be traded. He’d learned to remain detached both in 2003, when he was slated to be included with Manny Ramirez in a deal that would have brought Alex Rodriguez from the Rangers to the Red Sox, and again after 2007, when he was discussed as a possible part of a deal to the Twins for Johan Santana. Still, Lester acknowledges that there was a feeling of unfinished business related to the possibility of being traded.

“This is all I’ve known. If it was to happen, to go out on that note, is probably not what I would have wanted to do. But like I said, it is what it is. If the trade goes through, you can’t say, ‘Why the hell did you trade me?’ It’s not a personal thing. It’s a business side of it and you have to look at it that way,” said Lester. “I want to be like [Dustin Pedroia, who signed a deal to remain with the Sox through 2021]. I want to be here till they pull this jersey off me and I go home. I don’t want to go play for this team and that team and go home, bye. I want to ride this thing out to the very end, be with the guys that I’ve been with since day one back in A-ball, and that’s [Pedroia] and [Jacoby Ellsbury and Clay Buchholz].

“To go back to the trade, you’re kind of like, ‘[Expletive] — I want to go out on a different note if they traded me.’ But that’s not usually how it works if you get traded,” he added. “It would have been a sad day, but at the same time, new chapter. Luckily for me, it didn’t work out and I’m still here.”

Indeed he is. Lester remains with the Red Sox, and rebounded from his career-worst 2012 season — a 9-14 record and 4.82 ERA — to go 15-8 with a 3.75 ERA, including a 2.57 ERA in a dominant second half in which Lester, in the words of manager John Farrell, produced a “body of work [that] compares pretty consistently to whether it was ’08, ’09 or ’10 [as] one of the top starting pitchers in the league.”

And so it is that Lester will be on the mound today, facing Myers and the Rays in Game 1 of the ALDS, trying to start the team with whom he’s spent his entire career on the path to October glory — an opportunity that it wasn’t clear he would have last offseason.

“Not giving up on the core guys I think is big. They could have very easily traded me away, traded [Ellsbury] away, so for them not to do that and bring in other parts is I think just kind of speaks for the confidence they had in us to rebound from last year,” said Lester. “To be named Game 1 starter, especially after last year, to be named Opening Day starter, you know, big honor. … I always say for this organization, with the history that goes along with it, the guys that have gotten that honor in the past, it’s a big honor for me to have my name up there with those guys. I can go out and bust my butt and give the team the best chance to win tomorrow and set the tone for the other starters.”

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