Contenders with the Assets to Close a Deal on Red Sox's Impact Arm Jon Lester

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Contenders with the Assets to Close a Deal on Red Sox's Impact Arm Jon Lester
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Having been scratched from his scheduled start Wednesday, Jon Lester may be on his way out of Boston.

It's quite possible that Jon Lester already has thrown his last pitch as a member of the Boston Red Sox. At least for now. On Tuesday night, manager John Farrell announced that Lester, who has been in the thick of trade rumors and speculation with the Red Sox falling entirely out of the playoff picture recently, was being scratched from his scheduled start on Wednesday.

"In light of all the uncertainty surrounding Jon Lester," Farrell said via Ricky Doyle of NESN after the Red Sox's 4-2 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays dropped them to 48-59, "it's probably in everyone’s best interest that he does not make that start."

While this maneuver doesn't guarantee that the 30-year-old will be traded between now and the deadline at 4 p.m. ET on Thursday, July 31, it certainly adds to the already intense intrigue surrounding Lester. This also doesn't hurt the possibility that trade discussions have been—or soon will be—picking up steam.

There are a number of factors to consider in evaluating the southpaw's trade value. First is performance this season, which has been the southpaw's best, as his 2.52 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 4.7-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio are all better than ever. That boosts his trade value.

Second, Lester's contract is up at the end of 2014, which hurts his value a good deal because either he'll require a massive, nine-figure investment from any team that obtains him or he'll spend two months in his new digs before hitting free agency and moving on.

To that end, Lester recently said that he very much would be open to returning to Boston, the only organization the nine-year-veteran has played for, even if he's traded.

"Why not?" Lester recently told Joey Knight of the Boston Herald about re-signing with the Red Sox. "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."

That in no small way, undercuts Lester's value, too, since it's a very real possibility that he could be nothing more than a two-month rental, especially if any acquiring club doesn't reach the playoffs.

Speaking of, Lester still will command quite a bit in a swap, because he's proven to be one of the better October arms in recent memory. Not only does he have two World Series rings from 2007 and 2013, but Lester also owns a sparkling 2.11 ERA and 1.04 WHIP in 76.2 career postseason innings.

That's the kind of resume that might make a contender pony up prospects to land one of the few difference-making players who is readily available for the stretch run.

As far as prospects go, Boston actually has one of the better farm systems in baseball. However, with the likes of rookies Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Allen Webster and Christian Vazquez set to exhaust their prospect status, the Red Sox could use a piece or two to help replenish those who have graduated to the majors.

Plus, a great deal of the organization's minor league talent resides on the mound (Trey Ball, Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Barnes, Brian Johnson) and on the dirt (Mookie Betts, Blake Swihart, Garin Cecchini). If general manager Ben Cherington is going to deal Lester, the return could be centered around a young outfielder, which would fit a need, as Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald notes.

With that in mind, here are the teams in contention, some of which, as pointed out by Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston, both have a need for a top-of-the-rotation ace like Lester and the means (read: prospects) to pull off a trade for him.

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