"Boston may talk Lester, and the best fit is the Dodgers," opined one rival GM.
The Dodgers could form a super rotation by adding Lester to a group that already includes Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Josh Beckett, and has the prospects and outfielders to entice Boston.
Red Sox GM Ben Cherington is saying Boston, which has been fading in the AL, is now listening to overtures for their players, who presumably include Lester, a free agent after the year that Boston hasn't been able to sign. And while Dodgers GM Ned Colletti fairly characterized their chances to add a frontline starting pitcher as less than likely, people familiar with their thinking suggest Lester is at least on their radar. Gordon Edes of ESPN.com first mentioned the Dodgers/Lester connection.
Many contenders would likely line up for Lester, who's pitching some of the best baseball of his career. But LA, for a few reasons, seems to make about the most sense. The Cardinals and Mariners, like the Dodgers, also have the prospects and interest to do a major deal, and it appears Lester has replaced David Price, who's very likely staying in emerging Tampa Bay now, as potentially the best pitcher on the trade market.
Folks don't forget that LA and Boston got together on a huge summer deal two years ago, in which L.A. imported Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford and the Red Sox added some top prospects and shed major payroll, setting themselves up for their World Series win last year.
The Dodgers have several talented outfielders, which is Boston's biggest need. They include center field prospect Joc Pederson and longtime Dodgers star Matt Kemp, who's having an off year and seems more than open to a trade.
Boston has flirted with Kemp a couple times in the past, and it seems more open to the possibility of him than some of the other teams that have been in contact with LA (of the four that have spoken about Kemp, only the Rangers and Mariners have become public). However, some around baseball would still think Pederson, a power/speed combo who might be LA's best center fielder now, even if he's still in Triple-A Albuquerque, would be even more attractive due to his youth and contractual status.
"Pederson straight up (for Lester) ... who says no?" one rival GM asked rhetorically.
Eventually, that GM partly answered his own question, saying, "If I'm Boston, I'd take Pederson in a heartbeat."
The Dodgers are said to be reluctant to deal any of their three most elite prospects, who include shortstop Corey Seager and 17-year-old lefty pitcher Julio Urias in addition to Pederson, but they are also said to have concern about how the ex-Red Sox Beckett and Dan Haren will hold up at the back end of baseball's best rotation. L.A. has some other very good prospects, including pitchers Chris Anderson, Zach Lee and others, enhancing their chances to bolster their rotation.
LA is most urgently looking for bullpen help, though, as Brian Wilson and some others have struggled in set-up roles, and the Dodgers are eying at options to aid J.P. Howell and closer Kenley Jansen in the pen. That certainly has a greater likelihood than a top rotation import, but the win-first Dodgers, who have a $230-million payroll, shouldn't be ruled out of anything.
If the Dodgers traded Kemp at this low point in his career, they'd very likely have to pay a decent-sized portion of the $117 million he has to go through 2019 on his $160-million deal, and they'd also have to wonder whether Kemp may regain his form elsewhere. Agent Dave Stewart, in suggesting here that maybe it's time for a trade for Kemp, predicted big things for him next year, following another winter of healing.
One drawback to trading Lester for Boston would be the removal of the possibility of extending him a qualifying offer, which would enhance his value as a free agent and make it less likely Boston would be able to re-sign him. They suggested a conversation-starting $70-million, four-year proposal back in spring, with the intention to go higher; but the way he's pitched, he should have no trouble doubling that total (and it would only aid him not to have a draft pick attached).
Some have suggest Lester could be traded, then signed back, but that seems slightly fanciful, specially so since the installation of the rule attaching a draft choice to top free agents three years ago. Of course, a trade would be a financial boon to Lester since the signing team wouldn't have to compensate Lester's new team, which by rules is ineligible to extend him the qualifying offer.