Thursday's non-waiver MLB trade deadline may result in a serious shakeup with regard to the playoff picture if some of the pitchers involved in the latest rumors switch teams.
Starting pitching is the most critical element to contending for a World Series crown, so plenty of clubs will be attempting to upgrade in that area any way they can. Much of the latest buzz comes out of the American League East division, featuring the likes of Tampa Bay Rays ace David Price, along with Boston Red Sox teammates Jon Lester and John Lackey.
The St. Louis Cardinals already enhanced their staff by landing Justin Masterson from the Cleveland Indians Wednesday, as per MLB.com's Jenifer Langosch. It will be interesting to see what type of domino effect—if any—that has on the other front offices mulling deals.
Here is a closer look at Price, Lester and Lackey and where they might end up in light of what exists on the rumor mill.
Jon Lester, Boston Red Sox
There isn't much for the reigning World Series champions to play for anymore, since they're in last place in the AL East by a considerable margin. With that in mind, it's time to look to the future, in which plenty can be had in exchange for a southpaw dynamo like Lester.
According to Fox Sports 1's Jon Morosi, Lester could also be in the market to go to St. Louis:
Cardinals still could acquire Jon Lester, but that may require giving up Shelby Miller, who is currently in the rotation.— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) July 30, 2014
Boston.com's Nick Cafardo named a number of other teams in the market for Lester:
One National League GM handicaps the Cardinals, Pirates, Dodgers And mariners as Lester suitors entering Wednesday.— Nick Cafardo (@nickcafardo) July 30, 2014
Speculation swirled regarding Lester's status when he was scratched from the lineup Wednesday, prompting him to take to Twitter, appreciating the fan support:
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
Lester is beloved in Beantown—and rightly so, given the wonders he's accomplished as part of one of baseball's most storied franchises. ESPN Stats & Info highlighted Lester's elite, crowning achievements:
Jon Lester is one of 3 LH pitchers to throw a no-hitter & win a World Series-clinching game for the same team (Sandy Koufax, Randy Johnson)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 30, 2014
One team in particular that Lester has been linked to is inside the division: the AL East-leading Baltimore Orioles, as per Pete Abraham of The Boston Globe:
That is quite an interesting proposition, and Boston had better have a viable vision for the future if Lester remains in Baltimore. Facing him so often every season, if he continues to dominate, would make the trade all the more difficult for Red Sox fans to take.
Given that Lester is pitching so well this season, with a 10-7 record and a 2.52 ERA, Boston is taking a considerable risk in giving him up, if it chooses to do so. The heights he's reached with the Red Sox will be hard for any of Lester's successors to replicate, as the team searches for a new ace.
There are so many teams in the market for Lester, but based on Abraham's sources on both sides, it looks like his most likely landing spot is in Baltimore.
Prediction: Lester is traded to the Orioles.
David Price, Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays are just five games out of the final wild-card spot in the AL playoff chase, courtesy of a recent hot streak.
With the bats coming around and Price pitching well, leading all of baseball with 189 strikeouts, trading him has become an even trickier proposition. That's more to do with the king's ransom a lot of teams would pay just to get Price, whose contract doesn't expire until after the 2015 season.
"We are talking and willing. [We'll] see if any teams have the desire," said one source about the possibility of trading Price, as per CBS Sports' Jon Heyman.
It would be sad to see Price leave Tampa Bay with a losing decision, yet that's what could happen after he was on the bump for a 5-0 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers Wednesday.
As impressive as it's been that the Rays have battled back from obscurity this season, Grantland's Jonah Keri notes how history isn't exactly on their side:
David Price starting today. If Rays win, would be 4th time in MLB history a team 18 games under rose to .500. None have ever made playoffs.— Jonah Keri (@jonahkeri) July 30, 2014
The latest update from Morosi hints that Tampa Bay is looking to the future and whatever will benefit manager Joe Maddon's club most in the long run, rather than what will earn the most victories this year:
Rays still willing to engage in trade conversations on David Price, Ben Zobrist, Matt Joyce, source says. Haven't ruled anything out.— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) July 30, 2014
Price is irreplaceable, and much like Lester's situation in Boston, the Rays had better construct a strong contingency plan. They are also unable to buy their way back to prominence like the Red Sox can with their gigantic payroll.
The ever-frugal Rays have bucked the odds, played hard for Maddon and built a team with modest costs. Their elite talents are few and far between, which would add to the disappointment of getting rid of Price if he continues to deal like a No. 1-caliber starter.
John Lackey, Boston Red Sox
Lackey's 11-7 record with a 3.60 ERA suggests he has plenty left in the tank at age 35. Having missed the entire 2012 campaign, the veteran has performed well in two seasons since.
Morosi reports that the Red Sox are considering shipping Lackey to the Miami Marlins and have had discussions with that suitor about Lester, too:
Sources: Marlins and Red Sox are discussing a possible John Lackey trade. @FOXSports1— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) July 30, 2014
Red Sox have had discussions with Marlins regarding Jon Lester in addition to John Lackey, source says. @FOXSports1— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) July 30, 2014
Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal added it's likely that both Lackey and Lester will be shipped out of Boston:
Source: “Very good chance” that #RedSox trade Lackey along with Lester.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 30, 2014
It makes sense that the Red Sox want to get value out of Lester, even if he wants to stay in Boston. Lester's contract expires after this season, but keeping Lackey seems logical, too. Lackey is making just $500,000 next season.
That's because, as per Spotrac.com, Lackey's injury that forced him to miss 2012 left him with a club option in the final year of his deal at the MLB veteran minimum salary. Thus, the Marlins would be getting a bargain in Lackey and someone who could help mentor a younger pitching staff that ranks 20th in quality starts.
Which pitcher would you rather have for a 2014 playoff run?
The Marlins would love to pick up Lackey's cheaper player option, taking away the complication of persuading Lester to stay. Plus, to get either one of these Red Sox hurlers, it will likely require Miami to put one premium prospect or more on the block. Lester will command more in return for Boston than Lackey will.
Therefore, it appears Lackey is destined to head south, while Lester will either stick with the Red Sox and help them contend in the future, or perhaps close out a second straight World Series in the AL East. Only this time, it will be with a different team, the Orioles.
Prediction: Lackey is traded to the Marlins.