So who would have guessed last October that the central figure of Trade Deadline Week 2014 would be . . . Jon Lester?
But that's where Lester and the Red Sox find themselves all of a sudden. And even though they're likely to wait until the last 24 to 36 hours before Thursday's deadline to make a final call on where (and whether) to deal their ace, multiple teams report the Red Sox have the auction blocks in place.
And, at this point, why wouldn't they? All these factors are telling them they'd be insane not to see what somebody might be willing to offer for a proven 30-year-old warrior who has given up a total of seven earned runs in his past eight starts:
• The starting-pitcher market is a wasteland. With the Rays unlikely to move David Price, with the Phillies' inflated asking price for Cole Hamels and with Cliff Lee's elbow and money issues, there's no available starter even close to Lester in either stature or impact.
So the Red Sox have contacted every contender that's looking for a starter and let all of them know Lester could be available for a two- or three-player package fronted by at least one upper-echelon prospect. So just take all those Price-to-the-Dodgers/Mariners/Cardinals rumors and substitute Lester's name, and you'll be right on target. But while the asking price remains monstrous, it isn't quite what the Rays were asking for Price, either. "In the end, it has to be less," one rival executive said, "just because he's a free agent, and the other guy [Price] is not."
• He can still sign with the Red Sox. Lester did the Red Sox a big favor Friday night by saying publicly that he would "understand" if they traded him and that he'd be willing to sign with them next winter if they did. Without those words, the Red Sox would have had to weigh the potential ramifications of moving Lester on both their fan base and clubhouse. But now they're virtually free to do what they have to do. After months of conversation, they know essentially what it would take to sign him -- whether that's now or next winter. If he's traded midseason, they wouldn't lose their first-round pick if they re-signed him. And ultimately, they can spin this deal by saying they got much more back than the draft-pick compensation they'd have gotten if they held onto him.