The Red Sox, a major league source said Monday, have been informed what kind of contract lefthander Jon Lester is seeking and that has led to the team putting its ace on the trade market.
That could be an indication the team has little willingness to sign Lester despite public comments suggesting otherwise.
Lester is seeking what was described as a “competitive offer consistent with the market” but nothing that would be considered precedent-setting.
The Red Sox made Lester a low-ball offer of four years and $70 million in spring training that was swiftly rejected. The sides since have said negotiations were tabled until after the season.
A team source said the Red Sox have not received a specific contract offer from Lester’s agents, Sam and Seth Levinson. A contract that reflects the market value for a pitcher of Lester’s experience and accomplishments would be approximately $22 million-$24 million a year over five or six years.
Given his oft-stated desire to stay in Boston, Lester conceivably could take less.
The Dodgers, Mariners, and Orioles are among the teams who have emerged as potential trade partners for the Red Sox. The question is whether the team could generate enough of a return for Lester to avoid what would be a public relations disaster and cause discord in the clubhouse.
The idea of losing Lester seems stunning to David Ortiz.
“He’s in the top three in the league. You don’t shuffle on that. This is a guy that is very valuable to this ball club,” Ortiz said. “He’s young, very talented, won a couple of World Series. You can’t ask for no more than what he has done. He’s in his prime. What else?”
The non-waiver trade deadline is Thursday at 4 p.m. Lester is next scheduled to pitch Wednesday night against the Blue Jays.
The alternative for the Red Sox would be to hold on to Lester, extend him a one-year qualifying offer that surely would be rejected, and collect a supplemental first-round draft choice as compensation.
By trading Lester this week, the Red Sox would get a better return at a lesser cost than a draft pick.
The 30-year-old Lester is 10-7 with a 2.52 earned run average in 21 starts. The All-Star has a 3.26 ERA over the last two seasons and last October was 4-1 with a 1.56 ERA in five playoff starts for the World Series champion Sox.
Lester said over the weekend that he would consider returning to the Red Sox via free agency even if he were traded. But a trade almost certainly would decrease what are increasingly long odds of Lester returning.
If Lester hits the open market — which at this point seems inevitable — the Yankees almost certainly would be one of his primary suitors given their need for starting pitching.