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Giving Buchholz Lester’s Extension

Two years ago the Red Sox made a good situation better. They had a young left-hander, Jon Lester, who, after helping the team during its 2007 World Series run, turned in a stellar 2008 campaign. After the season Lester had just two full years of service time, meaning he’d pitch in 2009 for relative peanuts. That is, until the Red Sox stepped in with a five-year, $30 million extension, which included a sixth year option at $13 million. The deal upped Lester’s 2009 salary to $1 million, but more importantly it promised to keep him in Boston for a reasonable price through at least the 2013 season.

Now the Sox have a similar opportunity on the table with right-handed Clay Buchholz. We’re not quite to the two-year anniversary of the Lester extension, but by then the Sox could have another young pitcher locked up for the forseeable future.

Yesterday WEEI’s Alex Speier spoke to Buchholz, who indicated that he’s open to an extension. “I think that would definitely be a base model for it,” said Buchholz, referring to Lester’s contract. “I’m not saying I’m as good as Lester or I deserve what he got, but just from the other guys who signed their deal in the past year or so with the same service, I think that’s definitely a good starting point if there ever was one.”

The other guys to whom Buchholz refers are Ricky Romero and Yovani Gallardo, who both signed extensions during the 2010 season. Gallardo came first, signing his not long after opening day. Romero came later, and while he technically hadn’t finished his second full season in the majors, the extension didn’t kick in until this season. Here’s how Gallardo, Romero, Buchholz, and Lester fared in their first two-plus years of service:

Not only does Buchholz match up favorably with the rest of this crowd, but he appears particularly comparable to Lester. While he’s truthful in saying that he’s not as good as Lester right now, Buchholz appears every bit as good as his teammate at a similar point in their careers. The only difference is that Buchholz is one year older now than Lester was when he signed his extension. Other than that there isn’t much difference at all.

The Red Sox should be as eager as Buchholz to work out an early extension. While there is always risk in signing young pitchers, Buchholz is worth the gamble. He was previously the team’s No. 1 prospect, and last year he started to deliver on that promise. Locking up Buchholz now would ease up the Sox pitching situation a bit, too. In 2014 the team will pay John Lackey, Josh Beckett, and Lester a combined $44 million, while, if the terms of the contract reflect Lester’s, Buchholz will make just under $8 million.

If Buchholz truly is ready to sign an extension, a deal should come together easily enough. There is enough precedent that a five-year, $30 million deal with a $13 million team option would work for both sides. It would provide Buchholz with enough money to last the rest of his life, and it provides the Sox with a cost-controlled potential ace for the next five or six years. It might take some times, as it did in the cases of Lester and Gallardo, but at this point it might be surprising if the Sox make it through the spring without signing Buchholz long-term.