SARASOTA, Fla. — Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington expressed cautious optimism concerning recent contract discussions with Jon Lester, but said it was hard to foresee whether the lefthander would have a long-term deal in place before the start of the season.
“I can’t handicap it,” said Cherington. “Still talking. There’s nothing else to report.
“I think the spirit of it has continued to be open, sharing information and focusing on resolving it this week one way or the other heading into Opening Day.”
As of now, Cherington said, there was nothing officially scheduled with Lester’s agents, Seth and Sam Levinson.
“We’ve had a number of conversations with Seth and Jon,” said Cherington. “I think anytime you can talk and share info and understand each other’s perspective better, it’s a form of progress. Saying anything more than that is unfair to the process and inconsistent to what we’ve agreed with.”
As for negotiating during the season, Cherington said, “Right now, we’re just focused on the conversation this week.”
But if something were getting close, he said, he would hope the sides would continue to talk.
Lester has said he wouldn’t mind if the talks spilled over into the season if things were getting close.
There is great risk for a player to allow talks to go into the season because of the possibility of injury. Agent Scott Boras recently turned down an offer from the Tigers to pitcher Max Scherzer, willing to take Scherzer into free agency.
But what if the player gets hurt in his free agent year? A potential bonanza could fizzle quickly.
The Levinsons negotiated a below-market long-term deal for Dustin Pedroia last summer at eight years, $110 million.
Lester, 30, based on his career and comparables, would warrant at least a five-year, $100 million deal. If what he seeks is north of that, he may face a roadblock with the Red Sox.
Because of rain in Fort Myers, Jake Peavy pitched a simulated game in the batting cage, throwing 100 pitches over six innings . . . Craig Breslow started for Single A Greenville at the Fenway South Player Development Complex and pitched one inning, facing three batters. He allowed one hit, a single, but the runner was erased with a pickoff . . . Against the Orioles, Drake Britton got in two innings, allowing three hits, before the game was called because of rain . . . Grady Sizemore will begin his set of three straight games Tuesday.
The third man
The Orioles are still holding Rule 5 pick Michael Almanzar, a third baseman they took from the Red Sox. Almanzar was taken originally to protect against Manny Machado likely starting the season on the disabled list, but now the Orioles are using rookie Jonathan Schoop there and acquired Steve Lombardozzi from the Tigers for former Red Sox shortstop Alex Gonzalez. Almanzar went for an MRI because of a swollen knee, and if it’s serious, the Orioles could hold onto him through a DL stint. If he’s OK, the teams could work out a deal, as the Red Sox have Will Middlebrooks and Garin Cecchini at third base. Almanzar is hitting .200, but he’s second to Chris Davis on the team with 9 RBIs.
Starter or reliever?
There is an internal debate about Brandon Workman and whether he’s better off in Pawtucket as a starter every fifth day or in Boston’s bullpen. The Red Sox likely will have one bullpen opening if Breslow starts the season on the disabled list. “I’m of the firm belief he can be in our starting rotation,” said manager John Farrell. “Starter innings as opposed to middle-relief innings are much more valuable, and guys who can do that, there are less of them than guys who can pitch out of the bullpen. But right now we have five starters.” Workman started out slowly but has stepped up his game recently. “He’s gotten better with command, with shape to his cutter, good curveball, he’s getting the ball down in the zone more consistently,” said Farrell. “With each outing, his execution is more consistent.” This is Workman’s first major league camp. He was in minor league camp last year and started the season in Double A Portland . . . Farrell said he is trying to get Mike Carp time at third and Daniel Nava more time in center (he played there Sunday in an intrasquad game). He also wants to get Shane Victorino time in center field.Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.