The market for starting pitching has shifted dramatically because of Boston's inability to re-sign Lester to an extension and the unexpected fall from contention by the defending World Series winners, who are in last place in the American League East with a 48-59 record, 11 games under .500 with 55 to go.
The Red Sox, losers of seven of their past eight games, are a season-high 12 games behind the Orioles in the division.
The other factor making a huge impact on the market is the remarkable recovery of the Tampa Bay Rays, who on June 10 were 24-42, 18 games under .500, and fully expected to trade ace left-hander David Price. Since then, the Rays have gone 29-12, a .707 winning percentage that is the best in baseball since that date, and drew to within a game of .500 with their 5-1 win Tuesday night over the Milwaukee Brewers.
There are teams that still believe the Rays will trade Price, but the club's performance has made that a much less certain proposition for general manager Andrew Friedman.
The Red Sox typically have not traded within the division but might make an exception in Lester's case, especially since the left-hander said his No. 1 preference as a free agent would be to re-sign with the Red Sox. His stance certainly could change once he plays for another team, but it is one reason the Sox would risk trading him within the division.
The Lester deal is only one of several the Red Sox are working on. The interest in left-handed reliever Andrew Miller is "crazy," one club source said, with numerous teams still in the running. Atlanta has been prominently mentioned as a club with keen interest in Miller, but quality relievers always command considerable attention at the deadline.
While numerous observers were dismissive about an ESPN Boston report about the Sox's interest in Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp and the possibility that he could be part of a Lester deal, the Sox have been scouting Kemp for at least the past month, according to an industry source. The $107 million remaining on Kemp's contract would make a deal difficult to execute, and with the Dodgers playing well, GM Ned Colletti might have little interest in breaking up his outfield combination, although a healthy Kemp could well pop up on the Sox's radar again in the offseason.
The Kansas City Royals, a source said, have inquired about John Lackey, and the Royals also retain interest in right-handed hitting outfielder Jonny Gomes. Lackey is scheduled to start Friday against the Yankees, and because of a unique contract that calls for him to be paid the major league minimum next season, a number of teams have checked on his availability.
Sinkerballing right-hander Burke Badenhop also could have appeal for a contender seeking relief help, and the Sox are known to be open to deals for Felix Doubront, Mike Carp, Craig Breslow and Edward Mujica.
"We have been working on all possibilities,'' a club source said.