ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Jon Lester offered up an intriguing twist to the upcoming trade deadline: The idea that he would be willing to re-sign with the Red Sox as a free agent in the offseason even if he is dealt at the deadline.
“Why not?” the lefthander said after the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Red Sox, 6-4, on Friday night. “This is what I know. This is what I love. Like I’ve said plenty of times, this is where I want to be. And if they trade me, I completely understand. No hard feelings.
“I know what they have to do for their organization, and if that involves me, then so be it. If it doesn’t, I’ll keep running out there every five days and pitching. Hopefully in November we get something done.”
Lester is 10-7 with a 2.52 earned run average and has been a dominant postseason performer, going 6-4 with a 2.11 ERA in 13 playoff games. He is 3-0, 0.43 in three World Series starts.
If the Sox were to make Lester available — and there are no indications they have — they could command a strong return then regain his services once the season is over.
It’s an unusual, but not unprecedented scenario. The Twins traded reliever Rick Aguilera to the Red Sox in July of 1995 then re-signed him that November.
Aguilera appeared in 30 games for the Sox, who lost a Division Series against Cleveland that season.
Lester was nearly traded to the Twins for Johan Santana in 2008 and would have been part of the package for Alex Rodriguez in 2004 had that trade been consummated.
“Been there,” Lester said. “Been traded; been given back. I don’t think anything, especially in Boston, can surprise you. We all understand where we’re at. We understand it’s a business.
“[General manager Ben Cherington] and ownership have to do what’s right for this organization. If that means, whoever it may be, is traded for prospects or other guys or whatever, that’s part of the business side of it. We all understand it. I’ve been through it a couple of different times at a younger age.”
Scouts on handScouts representing at least 19 major league teams were in attendance at Tropicana Field on Friday night to see the Red Sox play the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Braves, Giants, Mariners, Nationals, Orioles, Phillies, and Pirates were among those who sent top evaluators to the game with the non-waiver trade deadline coming up on Thursday.
Contending teams are keeping a close eye on the Red Sox. If Cherington elects to cut deep into the roster, the Red Sox have a number of players who could shape the pennant race in either league.
The Red Sox can offer a starting pitcher (Jake Peavy), an outfielder (Jonny Gomes), a bench player (Mike Carp), relief pitchers (Burke Badenhop, Craig Breslow, Felix Doubront), and an infielder (Stephen Drew).
Lefthanded reliever Andrew Miller, who came into Friday’s play averaging 14.5 strikeouts per nine innings, is a player scouts hope will be available.
Peavy has drawn interest from several National League teams, including the Giants and Cardinals. Red Sox scouts have been breaking down prospects in those organizations.
There are no indications the Red Sox will make closer Koji Uehara available. Like Lester, he will be a free agent after the season.
For manager John Farrell, the coming days will be a challenge as players deal with the uncertainty.
“Every year at this time it presents conversations that don’t happen during the other parts of the year,” Farrell said. “We all recognize that names are going to be offered up as situations banter about. You do the best you can with the information that you do have [and] that isn’t all the information. Just to put guys’ thoughts at ease.
“We’re focusing on what we can control and that’s between the lines today.”
Back in lineup
The Red Sox did not post their lineup until 4 p.m., about an hour later than usual. Farrell wanted to make sure David Ortiz was ready to go.
Ortiz left Thursday’s game against Toronto in the ninth inning when he checked his swing and felt spasms in the middle of his back. Ortiz was moving slowly after the game and wasn’t certain he would be able to play Friday, especially after the plane ride from Toronto. But after the Red Sox landed in Florida and checked into their hotel. Farrell received a call from his designated hitter.
“He said, ‘Just be sure you don’t count me out for tomorrow right yet,’ ” Farrell said. “Knowing that we could come in early today, get some work done, and here we are.”
Ortiz was further checked out Friday and watched carefully during batting practice.
“I was feeling better with what we did [Thursday] and I took some medication. I felt better,” said Ortiz, who struck out in the first, flied to center in the fourth, and knocked a run in the sixth with a single to right.
No way up
Will Middlebrooks has fully recovered from the fractured right index finger that landed him on the disabled list May 17 and has been swinging the bat well during a rehab assignment with Triple A Pawtucket.
Middlebrooks is 9 of 28 with three home runs over seven games for the PawSox. He did not play in their 10-2 road win Friday over Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
“We’ve outlined some things directly to him on timing and what we’re hoping to accomplish while he’s in Pawtucket and he’s doing that,” Farrell said. “Will is well aware of the timeline of things here leading into the [trade deadline] and he’s fully accepting of that.”
With Xander Bogaerts playing third base, it’s uncertain what future Middlebrooks has with the Red Sox. The Sox have said Bogaerts could move back to shortstop next season but he has not played so much as an inning there since June 1, not even on the days when Drew is out of the lineup.
“Not just in Will’s case, but with any position player if you produce offensively you’re going to find a way to make room and get yourself on the field and in the lineup,” Farrell said. “Unfortunately in the last year and a half the injury bug has hit him pretty consistently. Totally out of his control. But he’s also proven this is a righthanded bat that has well above-average power, which is what we’re looking for.”
The Red Sox have an unusual stretch of seven consecutive games in as many days on artificial turf. Shane Victorino, who has had several hamstring strains this season, was off on Monday and could be out of the lineup Saturday . . . David Ross, who is dealing with plantar fasciitis in his right heel, started Friday and is scheduled to catch Peavy Sunday . . . Ryan Lavarnway, who is coming back from surgery on his left wrist, had his rehabilitation assignment transferred to Pawtucket. He started at catcher Friday and went 1 for 2 with two walks. Mookie Betts, batting leadoff and playing right field, went 4 for 5 with a double, walk, RBI, and two runs.Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.