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Jon Lester: Contract status won’t impact preparation for season

02.17.14 at 2:08 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — One year later, Jon Lester is in a very different place. The 29-year-old entered spring training a year ago with a number of questions about his career direction, as if he’d arrived at a crossroads following a 2012 struggle that represented a considerable departure from his career track record. Now, he arrives once again secure in his status as the unquestioned ace of the Red Sox, an elite starting pitcher who dominated October in historic fashion. If there were doubts about his abilities, they were dispelled.

“Obviously a different mindset,” Lester said of the difference between spring training this year and last. “You don’€™t have that added stress of the offseason of trying to figure a lot of things out. I like where I was at at the end of the year. Mechanically, physically I felt great. Now it’s just a matter of getting ready, whereas last year was trying to fix things and the what-ifs and righting the ship to get back to being the Red Sox and winning. Last year as a whole, as a unit, there were a lot more questions. This year we don’€™t have those. Now we can worry about preparing and getting ready and going through all the drills like we did today and not worrying about what-ifs or if we’re going to be good again. Let’s get our work done and start preparing for a championship.”

Because it is once again clear what Lester is on the mound, the chief question surrounding him this spring is the prospective duration of his time in Boston. After the Sox picked up his $13 million option for 2014 on the day after the World Series, Lester is now confronted with his final season under team control, with free agency potentially looming on the far side of the coming year.

But Lester reiterated his desire to re-up with the Sox and remain in Boston going forward. As of now, he said there haven’t been talks between him and the team, but he said that he looks forward to the time when those conversations will occur, whether in spring training or the regular season.

“The status is what it is right now. I’ve got a year left on my contract. I’m going to play it out. As far as us talking to the front office or anything, we haven’t sat down. I think there’s going to be a time and a place for that,” said Lester. “That’€™s not really something I’m concerned about right now. I’ve got to be worried about getting ready for the season ‘€”- physically and mentally getting ready for the season. The guys I pay to do that handle that and think about that. When things start happening, then I can make a decision from there. If it’s something that we do get done during spring training, great. If it’s not, I think you have to take everything as it comes. If that involves going through the season and still talking or getting it done early, we’ll just kind of play it by ear and see what happens.”

While some players have acknowledged that contractual uncertainty impacted their preparation and/or performance, Lester said there was no reason to suspect that would be the case for him. After all, given that the Red Sox had a team option on him for 2014 (rather than a guaranteed year in his contract), Lester approached last year as if he would be a free agent after 2013.

“Obviously people say it was pretty much a guarantee they were going to pick up my option but you never know. I took it with the mind set that I was going to be a free agent and prepared myself for that,” Lester said of the 2013 season. “I’€™ve really done it already. The biggest thing you have to watch out for is getting too emotionally caught up in the process of a contract negotiation. You hear guys talk about arbitration, you go into an arbitration hearing and you hear from your own team how bad you are. Btu that’€™s their job they have to prove to you that you’€™re worth less than what you are, and we have to prove that we’€™re worth more than what we are. And it’€™s a tedious process and something I let those guys handle. When it gets down to it we’€™ll sit down with my family and make a decision what’€™s right for us. And if it’€™s to stay here, which we would love to do, then that’€™s what it is. But if we get to another point, we’€™ll cross that bridge when it gets there.”

That bridge is one that Lester hopes he does not traverse. He made clear yet again that he is willing to take a hometown discount to stay in Boston, and that comfort and the opportunity to remain with the only organization for whom he’s pitched in his career are of greater importance than capturing every potential dollar he can.

“I’€™m not going to go back on what I said. I mean, I said what I said from the heart and I mean it,” said Lester.”I want to stay here. This is all I’€™ve known. Like I said in the awards dealing I don’€™t like change. I don’€™t like going into new places that I have to learn. If I had to go out to Arizona right now and find my way around and meet new people and have new teammates and all that ‘€“ I mean if I had to deal with four new teammates that’€™d be fine, but not a whole squad of them; I’€™m terrible with names as it is. But no, I meant what I said. There’€™s no getting around it. I want to stay here. I want to be here till the end.”

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