Status quo in Lester talks

TORONTO -- It’s curious that after weeks of silence on the topic, Red Sox majority owner John W. Henry finally weighed in on the Jon Lester contract situation, emailing the Boston Herald to say that the sides have agreed to “put off” further negotiations until after the season. But it’s a stretch to say that Henry’s comments are a sign that Lester is a goner or that the Sox will not ultimately make an offer more in line with the current market for a top-of-the-line pitcher.

What it means is that informal conversations in recent weeks between the sides have not led to a resumption of negotiations, which already were “tabled” after spring training. CEO Larry Lucchino had said before the All-Star break that the club intended to approach Lester, but it hasn’t proceeded to the stage of making another offer. There is still time to do so, and sources on both sides still maintain that both the club and Lester want the pitcher to remain with Boston.

Clearly, the closer Lester comes to becoming a free agent, the chances that he will test the open market increase, but there still is a window for the Sox to conduct substantive negotiations before the start of the free-agency period.

Assuming that he is not signed before then, Lester will become a free agent at 9 a.m. on the day after the last game of the World Series. A “quiet period” follows, in which the Sox hold exclusive negotiating rights, but other teams can discuss their interest in him.

During the “quiet period,” the Sox can make Lester a one-year qualifying offer, equal to the average salary of the highest-paid 125 players in the game. Last year that figure was more than $14 million. Lester would then have seven days to accept or decline the offer; if he declines it, the Sox would receive a first-round sandwich pick as compensation, while the club signing him would sacrifice a first-round pick.