The trade talk surrounding Jon Lester, which has been ongoing for several weeks, reached a fever pitch when it was announced he would be scratched from his Wednesday start. It turned out the Boston Red Sox were just playing it safe with their top trade chip, so the rumors continue.
Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald passed along comments from manager John Farrell, who said given the circumstances, it was the best option for all of the parties involved.
"In light of all the uncertainty surrounding Jon Lester, it's probably in everyone's best interest that he does not make that start," he said. "There will be a corresponding move, roster-wise, at some point (today)."
The report also provided a glimpse into what Boston is seeking should it decided to part with its ace before Thursday's non-waiver trade deadline:
Based on information from major league sources, including executives who commented on condition of anonymity, the Red Sox have spoken with as many as eight teams about Lester's availability, notifying them that they will require at least two elite-level prospects in any deal.
Where do you think Lester will be when the deadline passes?
Based purely on his numbers, Lester would certainly be worth that type of haul. The 30-year-old starter is having the best statistical season of his career with a 2.52 ERA in 21 starts. He's also striking out more than a batter per inning for the first time since 2010.
Getting two top-notch young players for a pitcher whose contract runs out at season's end could prove difficult, though. That's a steep price tag for a rental or a player the other team would need to hand a massive extension to keep beyond this year.
The silver lining for general manager Ben Cherington is the number of teams potentially involved in the sweepstakes, which nearly amounts to one-third of the league.
Jayson Stark of ESPN matches the Boston Herald report in linking eight different teams to Lester. He lists the Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals, Seattle Mariners, Baltimore Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays, Atlanta Braves, Milwaukee Brewers and Pittsburgh Pirates as possible landing spots.
It seems there isn't a high-profile signing or trade these days without the Dodgers involved. If they were ever able to work out a deal with the Red Sox for Lester to join Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, then it would eliminate any doubt about which team is the National League favorite.
Peter Gammons of MLB.com doesn't think they will be heavily involved when it comes to acquiring another ace, however. He thinks Los Angeles is focused on a starter who would fill a spot at the back end of the rotation while keeping its young talent:
Dodgers have made it clear they're not trading Pederson, Seager or Urias, no longer on Lester, Price or Hamels. Thinking backend SP, bench— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) July 30, 2014
That's good news for every other team in negotiations with Boston. But there's still varying reports about whether the team is all-in on selling.
Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe reports keeping Lester for the rest of the season and then accepting a draft pick as compensation if an extension isn't reached is still an option. In that case, he would return to the rotation later in the week:
Team sources said Wednesday morning that the Red Sox are not necessarily committed to trading Lester and that he could start against the Yankees on Friday at Fenway Park. But enough teams are interested in Lester that a deal seems likely.
Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports cites a source that thinks there's a high probability Lester, along with John Lackey, will be on the move:
To be clear: Source not saying #RedSox will move Lester and Lackey in the same deal. Just saying “very good chance” both will be traded.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 30, 2014
Ultimately, it's a difficult situation made even tougher because the Red Sox figured they would be looking to add the final pieces to their repeat puzzle right now. Instead, they are looking into possibly moving a stalwart member of the rotation.
Trade rumors can often get a player off his game, as well. That seemingly hasn't been the case for Lester, who has a 0.93 ERA in four July starts. Those numbers help solidify his value as one of the few elite pitchers available at this stage.
He took to Twitter to thank their fans for their support throughout the process:
Thank you all for the kind words! Tough situation to be in but it's what we sign up for and I find comfort knowing we're in this together!— Jon Lester (@JLester31) July 30, 2014
Unless the Red Sox feel confident they can re-sign Lester after the season, they should take the best offer on the table by 4 p.m. tomorrow. It's highly unlikely a compensatory draft pick will match up to the deals available now, even if they don't contain the desired pair of elite prospects.
If he does get moved, then there's a strong chance he will shift the balance of power in either league. The races are incredibly close across the board, and, aside from maybe the Oakland Athletics, no teams have really stood out from the pack to this point.
Lester is definitely a pitcher with the ability to lead a rotation or slide in as a terrific No. 2 option. The question is whether any team values that type of asset enough to part with a couple young players with plenty of potential.
It's a situation that will be watched closely over the next 24 hours.