Coveted free agent reportedly close to choosing new team
By Chris Haft
SAN DIEGO -- Jon Lester dominated the Giants' collective hearts and minds as baseball's Winter Meetings began Monday.
General manager Brian Sabean openly stated what observers have sensed: The reigning World Series champions will address other needs, such as their third-base vacancy, once Lester selects an employer from among the Giants, Red Sox, Cubs, Dodgers and possibly the Yankees.
San Francisco's reported pursuit of third baseman Chase Headley is currently a secondary matter, at most.
"Don't go by what you read. We're not head over heels on Headley. Right now it's all about Lester," Sabean said.
According to the rumor mill, which remains in perpetual motion during the Meetings, Lester was expected to make a decision no later than Tuesday. Asked if that was his interpretation of the scenario, Sabean said, "Not necessarily," though he sensed that Lester "would rather make a decision sooner than later."
Sabean expressed confidence that Lester is seriously considering the Giants.
"We're still on the board," he said.
If they were out of the running, Sabean added, "We would have been told."
Lester, who turns 31 next month, is said to want at least a six-year contract worth close to $25 million annually. According to speculation, the competitive bidding could prompt one of his suitors to include a seventh year in its contract proposal. Lester established his value by compiling a 116-67 record in nine seasons, including a 16-11 mark with a career-best 2.46 ERA this year for Boston and Oakland.
The Giants reportedly demonstrated their earnestness to sign Lester by including catcher Buster Posey, the team's poster boy for success, in the contingent that visited Lester at his home near Atlanta last week. Asked to confirm whether Posey indeed helped lobby Lester, Sabean replied, "I think you should ask Buster." Posey couldn't immediately be reached.
The Giants' competitiveness drives their sense of urgency regarding Lester. Citing the eternal need for pitching, Sabean pointed out that the Giants can't thrive on Madison Bumgarner alone, particularly in the pitching-centric National League West.
"You need other guys," Sabean said. "You have to keep up with the Joneses."
The Giants obviously aren't too concerned with Lester's impact on the budget. Adding him would increase the Giants' player payroll, which ranked seventh in the Majors last year at approximately $150 million, toward the level of the Major Leagues' biggest spenders -- possibly beyond $180 million, including raises for salary arbitration-eligible players.
If the Giants don't sign Lester, they're said to be prepared to allocate their available funds elsewhere. They'll eventually find a taker for the money spurned by third baseman Pablo Sandoval -- who defected to the Red Sox via free agency -- and, potentially, Lester.
The market for right-hander Max Scherzer, who went 70-24 in the last four seasons, hasn't yet defined itself and won't until Lester signs. The Giants could turn their attention to him, but might find a more crowded field of competitors than they have for Lester. The Giants particularly want durability, which might lead them to inquire after Aaron Harang. The free-agent right-hander logged 204 1/3 innings this year with Atlanta.
The Giants also are believed to be in trade discussions with the New York Mets regarding right-hander Dillon Gee, who owns a 40-31 lifetime record but finished 7-8 in 22 starts this year. The Giants' interest in Gee, if genuine, would seem to diminish the possibility that they would attempt to keep either of their two free-agent starting pitchers, Ryan Vogelsong and Jake Peavy.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Haft-Baked Ideas, and follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.