Exec predicts Lester will return to Boston

PHOENIX -- Few things invite more skepticism than the suggestion that the Boston Red Sox will re-sign free-agent pitcher Jon Lester. Given where the market for elite starting pitching is headed, and the fact the Sox offered Lester only four years and $70 million this spring before trading him in July, that skepticism is well-placed.

But Monday night, a well-connected baseball executive who has had conversations on the subject with the Red Sox, predicted that Boston will indeed re-sign Lester, and may make an exception in Lester’s case to their pledge not to offer a long-term deal to pitchers north of 30 years old.

How high would the Sox go, and for how many years? The executive said he did not rule out a six-year offer for at least $20 million a year.

Lester turns 31 on Jan 7, but he has proven exceedingly durable, pitching at least 200 innings in six of the past seven seasons, and is coming off arguably his best season in the majors, one in which he posted a career-best 2.46 ERA, struck out 220 batters (his most K’s since 2010) and walked a career-low 48 batters.

Red Sox executives, including CEO Larry Lucchino and Ben Cherington, went to some length after Lester was traded to the Oakland Athletics to say the Sox would love to have Lester back, and on the day he departed from Boston, Lester was photographed speaking with Sox owner John W. Henry at Fenway Park.

The Sox traded Lester knowing that Lester would never be more than a short-term rental for the budget-challenged Athletics. Even after Lester was traded, several Sox veterans privately expressed confidence that Lester would be back. Lester has long been a favorite of manager John Farrell, who developed a close relationship with Lester after the pitcher's battle with cancer and fought furiously against trading him to the Minnesota Twins in 2008 for Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana.

The Sox used Lester to acquire power-hitting outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. If Lester comes back, that trade would represent a coup for GM Ben Cherington.

Far-fetched? No one should be betting the mortgage on Lester’s return, but dismiss it at your own peril.