If David Price is out of your price range, could I offer you Jon Lester?
With the July 31 trade deadline rapidly approaching, offers for the Boston Red Sox ace are in abundance. Since he's a free agent at the end of the season and the Sox are out of the playoff race, the team might as well unload him now and collect a hefty trade haul.
Lester's having his best season in the majors, posting a 2.52 ERA and 2.62 FIP, according to Baseball-Reference.com. He also boasts a healthy 155 ERA+ and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.66.
Even if he's a rental, the left-hander would be a sizable addition to a postseason contender. Think back to how large a role CC Sabathia played in the Milwaukee Brewers' 2008 stretch run. He made 17 starts, going 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA, and the Brewers made their first postseason since 1982.
Price is viewed as the big fish in this year's trade market, but the Tampa Bay Rays have been patient up to this point and won't accept what they feel is a lesser deal.
For that reason, ESPN.com's Jayson Stark wrote that Lester could be the more likely pitcher to move this year:
So just take all those Price-to-the-Dodgers/Mariners/Cardinals rumors and substitute Lester's name, and you'll be right on target. But while the asking price remains monstrous, it isn't quite what the Rays were asking for Price, either. "In the end, it has to be less," one rival executive said, "just because he's a free agent, and the other guy [Price] is not."
Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal reported that the Seattle Mariners are one team that may look to Lester as a Plan B in the event Plan A (Price) doesn't work out:
ESPN.com's Buster Olney and Joel Sherman of the New York Post both tweeted out that the consensus, however, put Lester on the Los Angeles Dodgers:
There's a growing expectation from rival execs that Jon Lester is going to be traded before Jdeadline; LAD viewed as likely landing spot.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) July 28, 2014
Feels like every executive I talk to says they think #Dodgers will get a SP and could go big for Hamels or Lester— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) July 28, 2014
This is where you shudder in fear about a potential Dodgers rotation that has Lester, Clayton Kershaw, Josh Beckett, Dan Haren and Zack Greinke. The San Francisco Giants might as well give up the NL West right then and there.
The Dodgers have everything to make this trade work: plenty of top prospects and a setting/playing situation in which Lester would look forward to playing.
In June, the writers at Baseball Prospectus (subscription required) proposed hypothetical trades for Price and determined which team would "win" the Rays ace. Los Angeles ended up with the best trade package, which include Joc Pederson, Zach Lee and Chris Anderson:
You can go ahead and slot both Pederson and Lee into your starting lineup and rotation, respectively. Both are major-league ready and have high floors. Anderson needs some time, but he has the raw stuff to become an innings-eating starter as well. That's one top-25 prospect, one top-100, and another who could qualify for a top 100 very soon. We laid the groundwork for this trade last year, actually. Make sure Astro brings his Ray-Bans for the LA sun.
You could essentially substitute Lester in place of Price and reach the same outcome. If the Dodgers go all-in on their target, that's pretty much the end of it.
The interesting part of this scenario is that Lester could end up being dealt and then sign with Boston in the offseason, similarly to how Cliff Lee was traded from the Philadelphia Phillies to the Mariners before the 2010 season and then signed with Philly a year later.
Lester has already signaled that he'd be open to signing with the Red Sox even if they trade him, per the Boston Herald's Joey Knight:
Why not? This is what I know, this is what I love and like I’ve said plenty of times, this is where I want to be. And if they trade me I completely understand. No hard feelings; I know what they have to do for their organization. If that involves me, so be it. If it doesn’t, I’ll keep running out there every five days and pitching. Like I said, hopefully in November we’ll get something done.
Sports Illustrated's Joe Sheehan noted that Boston would have the money necessary to bring him back if it decided to do so:
#RedSox have just $80M in commitments next year. They can afford Lester and another big contract, easy.— Joe Sheehan (@joe_sheehan) July 28, 2014
Stark was a bit skeptical that the Red Sox would in fact make a serious attempt to sign Lester:
But what people around the sport really think is that this is a front office that already knows ownership isn't willing to commit to Lester for the years and dollars he's looking for. So it's time to make the best deal that's out there. And that time, stunningly, has arrived -- in the final hours of Trade Deadline Week 2014.
The Boston Globe's Peter Abraham also threw a wet blanket on the Lester-to-Boston offseason rumor:
The Red Sox, a major league source said Monday, have been informed what kind of contract lefthander Jon Lester is seeking and that has led to the team putting its ace on the trade market.
A team source said the Red Sox have not received a specific contract offer from Lester’s agents, Sam and Seth Levinson. A contract that reflects the market value for a pitcher of Lester’s experience and accomplishments would be approximately $22 million-$24 million a year over five or six years.
If Boston's plans for 2015 don't involve Lester, then the incentive to trade him is even greater. Why let him walk at the end of the season and get nothing back when the team could trade him now and get something in return?
Whatever's gonna happen with Lester, expect a lot of movement very soon.