CLEARWATER, Fla. — Red Sox stars Jon Lester and David Ortiz said several times over the winter that they hoped to sign contract extensions that would keep them in Boston. They reiterated that sentiment at the start of spring training.
Now, as the regular season approaches, both players are drawing close to their goal.
The Red Sox, team sources said, are only days away from finalizing a one-year, $15 million extension with Ortiz. Meanwhile, Lester described his negotiations with the team as being fruitful enough to potentially produce a deal before Opening Day.
New contracts have been expected for both players. Ortiz remains a critical lineup component at age 38 while Lester is coming off a dominant postseason that re-established his credentials as an ace.
For several weeks, Ortiz has expressed confidence that a deal would be struck. He was seeking essentially a renewal of the one-year, $15 million contract he has for this season.
Ortiz hit .309 with 30 home runs and 103 RBIs last season. He followed that by hitting .353 in the postseason with five home runs and 13 RBIs in 16 games.
“Everything is going the right way,” Ortiz said Thursday. “I’m not worried.”
Ortiz’s agent, Fernando Cuza, has had at least three in-person visits with Red Sox officials during spring training and was at JetBlue Park Thursday.
Ortiz said in December and again in February that he wanted to finish his career with the Red Sox and was looking to play at least two more seasons before considering retirement.
Ortiz has hit .300 with a .952 OPS and 114 home runs over the last four seasons. The designated hitter also has become the public face of the franchise.
Ortiz grumbled about his contract several times over the winter, saying he would consider moving on to a new team if a deal could not be reached. But such talk quieted down after Cuza’s first meeting with the Red Sox Feb. 21.
“I know where he’s coming from. He wants to finish his career here and we should try to make that happen,” Sox principal owner John Henry said in February.
Henry, who also owns the Globe, has said that Lester fits the model of players the Red Sox would sign to long-term deals.
Lester threw 5⅔ shutout innings against the Phillies Friday, then spoke candidly when asked if a new contract could be signed before the start of the season.
“Yeah, I think so,” he said. “I know they’ve been pretty busy dealing with David’s stuff and all that. It’s a negotiation. No matter how optimistic people are about it, it’s a tough process. We’ll keep grinding it out and see where we get.”
Lester feels progress has been made.
“I think so,” he said. “I think we’re headed in the right direction.”
Lester’s confidence is such that he is willing to continue talking to the team once the season starts.
“That’s something you need to discuss when you get to that point,” he said. “If you’re at the 5-yard line and you’re kind of closing in on a thing, yeah, let’s just spill it over.
“But if we’re so far apart that it still doesn’t matter, then I think we’ll sit down and talk about it and see what the best interest is for both sides on that. But as of right now, things are progressing and I guess we’ll just keep hashing it out.”
Lester suggested nothing is imminent but described the sides as having “good dialogue.”
Lester’s agents, Sam and Seth Levinson, could not be reached for comment. They have been in Fort Myers several times to meet with the Sox. The Levinsons negotiated an eight-year, $110 million extension with Dustin Pedroia last season.
This deal could be more complicated given the value of starting pitching on the current market. Lester has said he is willing to take a discount to stay. But he could command a deal in the range of five years and $110 million.
Lester was 15-8 with a 3.75 earned run average last season before going 4-1, 1.56 in five postseason starts. He was stellar in two World Series starts against the St. Louis Cardinals, allowing one run over 15⅓ innings and striking out 15.
Lester, 30, is 100-56 with a 3.76 ERA over eight years with the Sox.
The Red Sox have a recent history of signing players to contract extensions in spring training or near the start of the season. The Sox announced deals with Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez in April of 2010 and 2011, respectively.