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John Lackey on Jon Lester: ‘He’ll be just fine in 5 years’

07.23.14 at 12:04 am ET
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TORONTO — John Lackey has a message for those fretting about Jon Lester living up to a contract stretching at least five years: Don’t worry about it.

“Jon’s a different deal, man. He works his butt off,” Lackey said. “He’ll be just fine in five years.”

The debate surrounding the merits and pitfalls of signing a thirtysomething pitcher to a long-term deal has been in full force. Lester is setting himself up for a big payday –whether with the Red Sox or another team after the season — which would kick off with the lefty living life as a 31-year-old 0n Opening Day of the 2015 season.

Lackey knows the mindset of a pitcher heading into such territory better than most.

The Red Sox starter was also 31 when he started his five-year, $82.5 million deal, which has a sixth-year option which will surely be picked up considering it is at the major league minimum. (“I haven’t even thought that far ahead. I’m just trying to get through this one first,” said Lackey of the contractual alteration born from missing the ’12 season due to Tommy John surgery.)

“I had multiple offers on four and five. I guess there were some teams that didn’t want to do it, but there’s always somebody who wants to do it,” he said. “I definitely wanted the five years, wanted the security at that time.”

As for the hesitation some clubs (including the Red Sox) seem to have when committing to a pitcher in their 30s past four years, Lackey is an example of how free agency can sometimes alter what teams had hoped the market might be.

“That’s just an excuse for them not to give up money for an extra year,” he said regarding not going five years. “It’s their business. But there are exceptions to everything.”

As is the case with many pitchers’ long-term deals, Lackey hit a bump in the road while executing his deal. In his case it was the elbow operation. Cliff Lee is another example of a pitcher earning a long-term commitment despite heading through his 30s. The Philadelphia lefty was dominant for the first three years of the deal but now is battling elbow issues.

The reality is that such contracts may have unwanted hiccups. But Lackey insists that whatever team commits to Lester won’t have to worry about such a dynamic.

“He’s an example you want to be around the young guys. He’s how you do it. He’s a pro,” Lackey said of his rotation-mate. “You could take him and write a book about how to be a starting pitcher in the big leagues. He works his butt off. He handles his business. He never gets into any trouble. He’s not a guy you have to worry about. He doesn’t do anything dumb. He gets it.

“I’ve been fortunate to be around a lot of good guys who do things the right way, but performance-wise and ability-wise he’s better than those guys and does it the right way. He’s pretty good.”

And now that Lackey is winding down to the end of his big deal, how does he feel pitching on the other side of 35?

“Overall, especially with last year and the way things are going this year, I guess it’s worked out pretty good,” he said. “I definitely physically I have a few more years left in me, for sure.”

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