With the Red Sox now listening to overtures on their ace, Lester is now finally eligible to make the prestigious list in July; there's no doubt he qualifies based on performance.
The Dodgers are interested, as many contenders should be. Lester is pitching the best baseball of his career, and he would enhance any contender's World Series chances.
Stock Watch mainstay David Price was nearly as good as Lester in July. But while the Rays apparently haven't ruled out becoming sellers, with their nine-game win streak that ended Sunday, it is getting harder to imagine that Tampa Bay will pull the trigger on a Price trade.
Here are all the Bulls and Bears.
1. Jon Lester, SP, Red Sox: He storms into the top spot with a brilliant July in which he has an MLB-low (among starters) 0.93 ERA. Lester's record is only 1-0 in July (not nearly as good as Price's 5-0) but it's fair to say wins and losses aren't the best barometers for pitchers, and Boston's problems scoring are well documented. Any contender can use an ace, but rivals believe the Dodgers are the best fit since they have outfielders (veteran Matt Kemp, who wouldn't mind a trade, and top prospect Joc Pederson) to offer. Lester has suggested he wouldn't be fazed by a trade. Hey, it would be a plus, as he wouldn't be saddled in his free agency by the attachment of a draft choice if he's dealt.
2. David Price, SP, Rays: He has pitched the Rays back into the fringe of the tight AL playoff race, so the odds for a deal would seem to be slim now. Just in case, though, he has continued his brilliance. His July numbers: 5-0, 1.36 ERA, 39 strikeouts in 39 2/3 innings.
3. Jorge De La Rosa, SP, Rockies: The Orioles blanched at the idea of surrendering top young pitcher Kevin Gausman for De La Rosa, and there's no sign they will relent. But it should be no shock the Rockies are aiming high. His 3-0 record and 1.78 ERA in July are especially impressive considering he pitches home games at Coors Field.
Honorable Mention: Cole Hamels, SP, Phillies; Ian Kennedy, SP, Padres; Wade Miley, SP, Diamondbacks; Aaron Hill, 2B, Diamondbacks; Martin Prado, INF-OF, Diamondbacks; Kurt Suzuki, C, Twins; Chris Coghlan, OF, Cubs; Justin Ruggiano, OF, Cubs.
1. Cliff Lee, SP, Phillies: To be fair, he just entered the market, as he's only two starts into his return after missing two months with an elbow problem. But with his contract (a league-high $47 million guaranteed through 2015, including the buyout on his '16 option), he'll need to pitch lights out to be acceptable in trades. He'll almost surely pass through waivers so there's still an outside chance someone takes him in August. Through two starts, he has a 7.59 ERA and 2.25 WHIP. That's not going to get it done.
2. Ryan Howard, 1B, Phillies: It's a close call as to what did more damage to his trade value, his performance or his publicity. It doesn't help at all that it came out (true or not) the Phillies might consider cutting him this winter. It also doesn't help that he's hitting .181 with a .575 OPS in July. Some AL team should take him to DH, but that's probably a winter deal.
3. Allen Craig, OF, Cardinals: St. Louis has a bit of a logjam in the outfield, but if there is a trade for Craig, he hasn't helped matters with a .133 July. He's a professional hitter, but this is a low point for him.