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Ace status cemented, Lester has priorities in place

Entering final year of deal, Red Sox lefty won't let contract talk be a distraction

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- When the ace comes to camp in a contract year, it is always a bit of a conversational piece. But Jon Lester will let other people talk about it.

As the unquestioned ace of the Red Sox, a title it took the power lefty a few years to build up to, Lester is only focused on getting ready for another season -- his ninth in the Majors.

"I've got a year left on my contract," said Lester. "I'm going to play it out. As far as us talking to the front office or anything, we haven't sat down. I think there's going to be a time and a place for that. That's not really something I'm concerned about right now. I've got to be worried about getting ready for the season -- physically and mentally getting ready for the season."

If his agents want to get those talks started with Boston's front office sometime during Spring Training, Lester has no problem with that. But he is on a strictly need-to-know basis.

"There are guys I pay to do that, handle that and think about that," Lester said. "When things start happening, then I can make a decision from there. If it's something that we do get done during Spring Training, great. If it's not, I think you have to take everything as it comes. If that involves going through the season and still talking or getting it done early, we'll just kind of play it by ear and see what happens."

What happened in 2013 is that Lester proved emphatically the previous season was just that one down year that even All-Stars have at some point in their career.

And what happened in October was that Lester had one of the finest postseasons by a pitcher in Red Sox history, culminating his 4-1, 1.56 ERA run by outdueling Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright in Game 5 of the World Series.

"I think Jon has proven that not only is he a frontline starting pitcher, but he's done it in a place that can be difficult at times. He's starting to assemble or amass a postseason resume that's very strong," said manager John Farrell. "I think guys look up to his work ethic and young guys that come to the big leagues, they take note of the way he goes about his work."

Lester's 2013 postseason was the type of month that put him on another stratosphere, and perhaps even increased his confidence heading into 2014.

"You're playing on the biggest stage at the biggest time of the year," said Lester. "To go out there and perform and be successful … that can boost you. When you can pitch and maneuver through lineups and do it on that stage, absolutely it boosts your confidence going into the next year."

After turning 30 last month, Lester is still very much in his prime. A two-time All-Star, there's a chance Lester hasn't put together his best season yet. Perhaps he is due for one of those Cy Young Award-type of years.

"Obviously each year you look to improve and get better," Lester said. "Obviously with last year I had some ups and downs. I came out like gangbusters and I think I peaked a little too early. Throwing perfect games in Spring Training, I kind of wasted my bullets a little bit. The biggest thing for me is how I finished -- hopefully I can take that same point and carry it over to this year."

The only disappointment Lester has in his 2013 season is the slump he had just before the All-Star break. Looking back on it, Lester knows that it lasted too long and he blames himself for letting it linger.

"As a pitcher, you're going to physically go up and down and as a team you're going to up and down," Lester said. "You just have to minimize those. That's where I got myself into trouble last year is that I didn't minimize the bad starts. I think I had four, five, six in a row where it wasn't good. And if you minimize those to two or three or four in an entire year, you're looking at a different season."

Lester is no longer just one man in a five-man staff. He is the guy teammates depend on and the one that the top prospects will follow around.

"It's a different chapter of my life right now, a different chapter of my career," Lester said. "Hopefully, like I said, I can be that guy and I can help the guys make that transition and feel comfortable with it. We're going to need them at some point. We're going to need those young guys to come up and perform and help your big league team out."

It seems like such a short time ago that Lester was the one observing veterans like Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett.

It is [strange]," Lester said. "When we pulled into Fort Myers two weeks ago, I told my wife, I think this is my 14th Spring Training down here or 13th Spring Training down here."

In actuality, this is the 12th Spring Training Lester has had with the Red Sox since being drafted in June of 2002.

But it seems doubtful it will be his last. Just like he said at the Baseball Writers Dinner in January, Lester's top priority is to stay in Boston for the long term. If has to leave a few dollars on the table to do that, he will.

"I'm not going to go back on what I said. I mean, I said what I said was from the heart and I mean it," said Lester. "We'll see where it goes from there. We still have a long way to go. It's going to be a tough process. Like I said earlier, that's why I let those guys [handle it]. 'Call me when you got something.' I don't want to hear about the day to day of it, when it starts, when it happens. But I have to worry myself about the field. I can't worry about the other stuff -- it'll take care of itself."

Ian Browne is a reporter for Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne.
Read More: Boston Red Sox, Jon Lester