The Red Sox are going to St. Louis next week to play the National League's Cardinals, an interleague matchup in which pitchers are required to bat, so Lester maintained the charade that he still will be on the team when the Red Sox get there and took batting practice with the rest of the pitchers.
Might as well do something, since the Sox already had scratched Lester from his scheduled start Wednesday against the Blue Jays, the type of move a team makes when it's about to trade a pitcher.
Manager John Farrell maintained the charade by saying that if Lester is not traded by Thursday's 4 p.m. ET deadline, he will start Sunday night against the New York Yankees, with John Lackey and Allen Webster staying on schedule and starting Friday and Saturday, respectively.
As of late Wednesday night, Lester had not yet been traded, although the Red Sox were deeply engaged in negotiations, major league sources said, with the possibility that a deal could be reached in the early hours of Thursday morning. At least four potential trading partners are in the mix: the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Oakland Athletics and the Baltimore Orioles, although sources indicated late Wednesday that Baltimore was not as active in talks with Boston. The St. Louis Cardinals had been involved in Lester talks, but after trading for another front-line starter, Justin Masterson of the Cleveland Indians, they were believed to have dropped out. So had the Toronto Blue Jays, according to a major league source.
The other four clubs all have the top-tier prospects needed to make a deal, according to a source with direct knowledge of the Sox trade talks. Still to be determined was the identity of the team that would be willing to part with those prospects for what is essentially a two-month rental, with Lester eligible for free agency after the season.
Lester took to Twitter on Wednesday:
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
The Pirates, Dodgers, Orioles and Athletics all have incentive to upgrade. The Pirates haven't won a World Series since 1979, the last year in which they played in one, and had a losing record for 20 straight seasons until they made it to the NL Division Series in 2013. The Dodgers haven't been in the World Series since 1988. The Orioles haven't been in a World Series since 1983 and had 14 straight losing seasons until making the playoffs in 2012.
Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti told reporters he won't trade the franchise's top three prospects and that outfielder Matt Kemp is not available.
With the Tampa Bay Rays uncertain to trade their left-handed ace, David Price, the Red Sox have in Lester the most appealing starting pitcher on the free-agent market. They also have the best left-handed setup man available in Andrew Miller, who pitched for the third time in four games Wednesday while numerous clubs bid on his services. And clubs were exploring Boston's willingness to deal John Lackey, with the Kansas City Royals and Miami Marlins among the teams expressing interest.
The Sox made only one trade Wednesday afternoon, dealing disgruntled -- and disappointing -- left-hander Felix Doubront to the Chicago Cubs for a player to be named later. Doubront's departure opened a roster spot for Brandon Workman, who started in Lester's place.
"It's a unique set of circumstances," Farrell said of the Lester situation. "[Lester] is an extremely talented pitcher, and as I mentioned yesterday, with all the uncertainty, it was in the best interests of everyone involved to push him back."
In his weekly radio appearance on WEEI on Wednesday afternoon, Farrell acknowledged that some of Boston's pending moves might not be popular, a further indication the Sox were preparing to move their staff ace. Asked how popular those moves would be in the Sox clubhouse, Farrell said: "That's why we've taken steps to meet with individual players and outline the best we can moves that might be made, with the intent that we can be the best team we can be as quick as possible. We spend so much time together, in a way it's like a second family, and any time you remove someone from that family, there's going to be a little 'sticker shock' or shock value to it.
"But what we have to do is step back from all of this and know there are decisions from the business side of the game, and have faith in the fact that Ben [Cherington] has a clear-cut plan to get us back to a team that will contend. Our faith in Ben and the plan that's in place is steadfast. There are some decisions along the way that might not be popular; that was my reference to it."
Farrell acknowledged that having confidence the Sox have a plan in place is problematic when it remains unknown which players the Sox will be acquiring in trades.
"The question mark remains who are the individual players who come back for the players we have now," he said. "We don't know that yet. I would hope that the team that is built for 2015 is not just based on those who are brought back in trades by tomorrow at 4 o'clock. This is an ongoing process where we continue to build."
Farrell reiterated his respect for how Lester has handled his pending free agency and seemingly imminent trade.
"He's been a model for all that's been asked of him," Farrell said. "The potential distractions, how he's tried to keep them from his teammates and from himself. Respectful to not only Ben and the owners and his teammates, but to everyone who walks into this ballpark has a sense of what Jon Lester is about. He's genuine, he's forthright and he's one helluva pitcher."