The non-waiver trade deadline is at 4 p.m. Thursday and, for now at least, Jon Lester is still a member of the Red Sox.
Lester watched the Red Sox play the Toronto Blue Jays from the dugout on Wednesday night, missing a game he was scheduled to start because the team is trying to trade him.
The All-Star lefthander was leaning on the dugout railing with John Lackey, another trade candidate, at the beginning of the game. Remarkably, the Red Sox would be willing to deal their No. 1 and 2 starters, according to team sources.
The Red Sox are not committed to trading either pitcher but believe enough teams are interested to find deals that would be satisfactory.
The Atlanta Braves are hoping to land lefthanded reliever Andrew Miller. The Sox did trade lefthander Felix Doubront to the Chicago Cubs for a player to be named.
The Sox and Baltimore Orioles got into advanced stages discussing a trade for Lester on Wednesday. But Baltimore pulled back after learning that one of its top pitching prospects, 19-year-old righthander Hunter Harvey, would miss the rest of the season with an elbow injury.
The injury gave the Orioles pause about trading the prospects that would have been required to land Lester.
The Oakland Athletics, St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers, Seattle Mariners, and Pittsburgh Pirates have interest in Lester. The alternative for the Red Sox would be holding on to the 30-year-old lefthander and receiving a draft pick as compensation if he leaves the team as a free agent after the season.
If Lester were not traded — which seems unlikely — he would start against the Yankees on Sunday night.
Lester is 10-7 with a 2.52 earned run average in 21 starts. His 149 strikeouts are sixth in the American League and he is fifth in ERA. But he will be a free agent after the season and the Red Sox have not demonstrated a willingness to sign him to a long-term contract.
Lester went through his usual pregame routine and even took batting practice, ostensibly to prepare for next week’s interleague series at St. Louis.
Lester did not speak to reporters. But he again posted on Twitter in response to messages of support from fans who do not want to see him traded.
“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!” Lester wrote.
A year after winning the World Series, the Red Sox, 48-59 entering Wednesday night’s game, have the third-worst record in the American League and are rebuilding. But manager John Farrell said the process would not be long-term and that he trusted the judgment of general manager Ben Cherington.
“We look at it like, ‘How do we build the best team to compete the quickest?’ I can’t speak to any negotiations that have been had. But we find ourselves in a unique situation, at the trading deadline with a pending free agent, extremely talented guy,” Farrell said. “That’s where our faith in uniform and our organization, our faith in Ben and the plan that’s in place is steadfast.”
Farrell said he admires how well Lester has handled the situation.
“He’s been a model for all that has been asked of him. The potential distractions; how he’s tried to keep that in a minimum from his teammates, from himself. He’s been respectful to not only Ben and our owners and his teammates but I think everyone that walks in the ballpark has a sense of what Jon Lester is about,” Farrell said. “He’s genuine, he’s forthright; he’s one hell of a pitcher.”
Farrell, who first worked with Lester in 2007 as the pitching coach, was wistful at times. He sad watching Lester grow at a player and person was, “awesome to witness.”
Lackey is 11-7 with a 3.60 ERA in 21 starts and represents a unique value in the trade market. He has $5.08 million remaining on his contract for this season with the team holding an option worth $500,000 for 2015.
The option kicked in when Lackey missed the 2012 season because of elbow surgery.
Lackey could balk at the idea of pitching for the major league minimum next season but his only alternative would be retiring. Lackey turns 36 in October and said last week he feels like he could pitch another few years with his rebuilt elbow.
The Red Sox received two Triple A pitchers when they traded righthander Jake Peavy to the San Francisco Giants last week. Dealing Lester, Lackey, and Miller would likely add to what is already a deep group of prospects in the organization.
If the Red Sox make the trades they want, they would have a pool of prospects and approximately $61 million in payroll coming off the books. That could enable a quick turnaround via free agency and trades.
“I would hope that the team that is built for 2015 isn’t just based on those who are brought back in trades by [Thursday] at 4 o’clock,” Farrell said. “This is an ongoing process that we continue to build.”Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.