BOSTON -- Well, Jon Lester said it would be a “crazy few days,” and as predicted, the Red Sox left-hander has now leaped to the front of the list of elite pitchers who may be traded by the July 31 deadline.
A major league source with knowledge of Boston’s discussions said Monday night it is still “less than 50-50” that the Red Sox trade Lester, based on discussions to date. The same holds true, the source said, for lefty reliever Andrew Miller, although he expects that the offers for both pitchers will be sweetened as Thursday's trade deadline draws closer.
The Red Sox are now actively engaged in determining what kind of return they could get in a Lester deal. They have had discussions with the Los Angeles Dodgers, they have been in contact with the St. Louis Cardinals and Seattle Mariners, and there was a report that they fielded an inquiry from the Baltimore Orioles, though it’s highly unlikely they’d move Lester within the division.
There were mixed signals Monday on whether outfielder Matt Kemp could be part of a deal with the Dodgers. The Sox had interest in Kemp last winter but were deterred by his shoulder and ankle injuries. Kemp has gotten progressively healthier this season and has posted a .282/.348/.440/.788 slash line, with 21 doubles and eight home runs.
That’s a far cry from his 2011 season when he was MVP runner-up, and he is owed $118 million over the next five seasons, but he is not yet 30 and could still be a force when fully healthy. Red Sox sources said over the weekend that the Sox would consider him, but there would have to be a lot of money coming back to Boston in a deal, and they would have to have an informed sense of how healthy he will remain going forward.
Talks with the Dodgers, according to sources, have not advanced to the point of swapping names. The Dodgers, who are coming off a sweep of the Giants, are telling at least some inquisitors they plan to keep Kemp, though one source insisted Monday his name remains in play.
The Dodgers so far have indicated they would not part with top prospects Joc Pederson and Corey Seager, but their resistance to doing so, measured against not having gone to the World Series since 1988, might lessen by Thursday’s deadline. One source indicated the Dodgers could be in on Miller as well.
The unusual wrinkle in trade talks regarding both Lester and Miller is that the Red Sox have expressed an interest in re-signing both as free agents, even if they are traded. Neither Lester nor Miller has ruled that out, though it is a risky game for a club to play.
There was a report Monday night that the Red Sox would be willing to trade John Lackey. Teams have made inquiries, including the Kansas City Royals, according to one source, but with Lackey due to make the major league minimum next season, the Sox are more inclined to keep him. But it bears repeating every year: Things are very fluid at the deadline, and surprises often abound.
David Price? The Tampa Bay Rays have won 10 of their past 11 games and are now two games under .500 after opening the season at 24-42; over the past six weeks they’ve had the best record in baseball, which has the Rays reassessing whether they want to move their ace. There are those within the game who say the Rays will move Price regardless, but it’s far from being a sure thing.
Cole Hamels? Reports surfaced Monday that the Phillies intend to make the 30-year-old left-hander available, which flies in the face of what a National League source said emphatically Sunday: that the Phillies have no intention of trading him.
That leaves Lester, who said on Friday he wouldn’t be surprised if he was traded and has reached the point where he would be more surprised if he wasn’t.
While Red Sox fans debate the merits of a Lester trade, the pitcher has succeeded in avoiding what, for him, would have been a far more divisive debate: whether a midseason offer from Boston was sufficient to sign him. That’s why he insisted on tabling negotiations until after the season, even when the Red Sox made overtures to his agents around the All-Star break that they wanted to reopen talks.
Could the Red Sox have overridden his objections and made an offer so enticing Lester would have had no choice but to listen? Sure, but it is also reasonable to believe Lester’s price has climbed significantly since spring training because of how well he has pitched, and only an above-market offer would have been a conversation starter.
Another factor that has some bearing on the Lester negotiations is the behind-the-scenes role played by the Major League Players Association, and what impact it may have on Lester’s thinking. The union, while endorsing a player’s autonomy in making his own decision, has always counseled its players to bear in mind the impact a signing might have on other players’ market value.