GM: Sox hope for Lester deal this week

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Red Sox GM Ben Cherington, who was here Monday to announce David Ortiz’s contract extension, said the club is still attempting to strike an agreement with pitcher Jon Lester on a new deal before the end of camp, but would not speculate on the chances of doing so.

“I can’t handicap it," he said. “We’re still talking. There’s nothing else to report than that. I think the spirit of it has continued to be open -- sharing information, and focusing on resolving it one way or another this week before we get into Opening Day."

At the moment, Cherington said, there are no face-to-face conversations scheduled with Lester’s agent, Seth Levinson, although that could change. There have been numerous conversations with both Lester and Levinson all spring, he said.

“We have great respect for Jon," Cherington said. “He’s obviously preparing to take the ball on Opening Day. That’s what he’s focused on mostly. No matter what happens this week, we’re going to support him fully. Our preferred position is he remains in a Red Sox uniform past 2014. That won’t change, no matter what happens the rest of this week."

Cherington was asked whether talks would continue if an agreement is not struck this week.

“Right now, we’re focused on the conversations this week, trying to resolve it one way or another without getting into the season. Hopefully we’re all reasonable enough people, if it made sense to do that, we could reconsider [this] weekend, but that’s not our thinking right now."

Lester is due to be paid $13 million this year, after the Red Sox picked up the option they were holding on his contract. The left-hander, who is eligible for free agency after the season and figures to be in great demand as a free agent, has said he is willing to take a hometown discount to remain with the Sox. But the market for premium starting pitching has skyrocketed in recent years, as evidenced by reports this week that Tigers right-hander Max Scherzer, another free-agent-to-be, turned down a reported six-year, $144 million offer to re-sign with Detroit.