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Sources: Dodgers have serious interest in Jon Lester, poised for potential late negotiating push

12.03.14 at 9:25 pm ET
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The Dodgers appear to be ready to make a significant run at left-hander Jon Lester. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

The Dodgers appear to be ready to make a significant run at left-hander Jon Lester. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

While the Red Sox, Cubs and Giants have all been part of a public courtship process of Jon Lester, interest from the industry’s financial heavyweights — the Yankees and Dodgers — had not been documented. But, multiple sources connected to teams interested in Lester have told WEEI.com that the Dodgers are a late entrant into the sweepstakes, with both serious interest in the top left-hander on the market and the resources to make a hard, late charge.

One industry source was under the impression that the Dodgers had already entered the bidding with an offer to Lester, while another characterized the Dodgers as poised to play a role similar to the one made by the Yankees in December 2008, when New York swooped in late to sign Mark Teixeira away from other interested bidders with a high bid of eight years and $180 million. A third noted of the Dodgers’ potential interest that Lester, “could help any team looking to win championships,” the unquestioned bar for a Los Angeles team that is after its first title since 1988.

The basis of a run at Lester by the Dodgers is fairly self-explanatory. While the team has the most dominant pitcher in the game in Clayton Kershaw and an elite No. 2 in Zack Greinke, the depth behind them is less than dominant — particularly given that Greinke can opt out of his six-year, $147 million deal after the 2015 season (the third year of his contract).

(Sidenote: Greinke’s deal likely would offer the opening framework for conversations with Lester given the career similarities of the two at the time of their free agency. Greinke secured his deal after the 2012 season, when, in 1,492 innings, he had a 91-78 record, 3.77 ERA, 114 ERA+, 8.0 strikeouts per nine and 2.3 walks per nine. Lester has logged 1,596 innings with a 116-67 record, 3.58 ERA, 121 ERA+, 8.2 strikeouts per nine and 3.1 walks per nine.)

Josh Beckett was excellent while healthy (2.88 ERA) for a half-season, but not only missed the final months of the season but announced his intention to retire after the conclusion of the season. Hyun-Jin Ryu had a strong 14-7 record and 3.38 ERA, though he logged just 152 innings and his ERA+ of 103 suggests he was in part a beneficiary of a very pitcher-friendly climate in the NL West (though his fielding-independent pitching (FIP) mark of 2.62 suggests that his excellent strikeout rate (8.2 per nine), low walks total (1.7 per nine) and stinginess allowing homers (0.5 per nine) could have yielded far better results but for the poor defense behind him). Dan Haren was a solid back-of-the-rotation contributor, with a 4.02 ERA (87 ERA+ — meaning 13 percent worse than league average when adjusted for park conditions), but he’s been a below-average performer (in terms of ERA+) for three years, and the Dodgers turned to Kershaw on three days of rest and skipped Haren in their NLDS elimination game against the Dodgers.

Lester has something that none of those Dodgers pitchers possesses — a tremendous postseason track record that now accompanies his career-best performance over the last year and a half.

The Dodgers, of course, have financial resources that can match those of any team in baseball, particularly at a time when Greinke may be within a year of entering free agency and when the team might be able to clear some payroll by moving one of its expensive outfielders (Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford). One source went so far as to suggest he would be “shocked” if the Dodgers don’t end up being the high bid in the Lester sweepstakes, though whether that proves the case — or whether he ultimately would make his decision on the basis of the highest offer — remains to be seen.

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