Pain of losing Lester cuts deep

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BOSTON -- Yoenis Cespedes is both showman and shaman, bringing muscle and magic to a team sorely lacking in both. He will hit home runs that remind you of Manny and uncork throws rivaling those of Bo, and adoring Sox fans will soon sport T-shirts that say "Cespedes for the Rest of Us," paying tribute to the Cuban-born outfielder and "Seinfeld" simultaneously.

But for all the excitement Cespedes is sure to bring to Yawkey Way, it is hard to shake the notion that in the end, Cespedes will prove to be nothing more than a powerful anesthetic. And it will take more than Cespedes to mask the pain of losing Jon Lester, the best left-hander ever to wear a Sox uniform not named Ruth or Grove.

A team that won three World Series in 10 years because it had pitchers named Schilling and Pedro and Lowe in 2004, Beckett and Lester and Daisuke in 2007, and Lester and Lackey and Buchholz in 2013, now would have you believe that you can trade away four-fifths of a championship rotation and expect to contend the following season.

This is not a knock on general manager Ben Cherington and his lieutenants, who worked sleepless nights to extract the best return they could in deals for Lester and John Lackey, Lester going to Oakland for outfielder Cespedes and a competitive-balance draft pick, and Lackey going to St. Louis for pitcher Joe Kelly and outfielder/first baseman Allen Craig. Cherington also traded lefty setup man Andrew Miller to the Orioles for promising lefty Eduardo Rodriguez, and dumped shortstop Stephen Drew on the Yankees, allowing Xander Bogaerts to go back to the position he was promised.

And this is not to gloss over the deficiencies of a rotation in which Felix Doubront crashed and burned and Jake Peavy, for all his competitive zeal, won a single game in almost four months.

But still, it should not have come to this. We should not be contemplating a scenario in which Lester and Lackey return to the World Series this October, not as teammates but facing each other, Lester for the Athletics, Lackey for the Cardinals.

Cherington and manager John Farrell both said this week that the Sox were committed to winning again as quickly as possible, returning to contender status next season. But there simply is no rational way to argue that cutting ties with Lester and Lackey was the best way to do so.

Lester deserved better. He began with this team, he beat cancer with this team, he won for this team, he endured slings and arrows for this team, he became a man for this team, he was a two-time champion for this team. He created no waves, touched off no controversy. He was a model, as Farrell said earlier this week, of how a player should act during contract negotiations that so often foster ill will and hard feelings.

It wasn't a one-way street. The Sox stood by him during his trials, and treated his family with generosity and class. That's part of the reason he made no secret of his desire to stay. He knew all the benefits that derive from playing for the Red Sox. This was home. This is where he felt he belonged.

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