BOSTON -- Exactly nine months after the club clinched its latest championship, thanks in part to his significant contributions during the World Series, the Red Sox traded a homegrown, left-handed starting pitcher on Wednesday afternoon, sending him to the National League as they started unloading pieces in advance of today’s non-waiver trade deadline.
And in other news, Jon Lester was by sunset still listed as the Sox’ scheduled starting pitcher for Sunday night’s game against the Yankees.
On a day when rumored swirled around the ace, and the team made little effort to conceal the fact it was fielding offers for Lester, it turned out instead to be Felix Doubront who was traded away, the disgruntled southpaw sent to Chicago for a fresh start with the Cubs — while Lester remained on the Red Sox roster for at least one more night.
“Status quo,” manager John Farrell said prior to Wednesday’s game of the pitcher who is said to have drawn heavy interest from the Dodgers, Pirates, Brewers, Athletics and Cardinals, with the Sox targeting top-tier prospects. Other teams have reportedly dropped out, but the list of suitors figures to remain fluid. “It’s a unique set of circumstances.”
The team and the player having failed to negotiate a contract extension to keep him here beyond this season, and the trade market suggesting the potential return for him may be more lucrative than previously expected, indications that Lester could be moved really ramped up on Tuesday. That night the Sox perpetuated the imminent feeling of a deal by announcing Brandon Workman would be promoted to take Lester’s turn on Wednesday.
It mitigated the risk of Lester getting hurt before the Sox could cash in their commodity, so it was an obvious decision. Additionally, it created an air of inevitability that seemed to cut the tension some inside the park after it was running high with so much uncertainty hovering a night earlier. And it also gave Boston’s brass more time to seek a deal that maximizes the value of a player whose postseason resume suggests he could make a difference for someone come October — and set up today to be anything but a typical off-day for general manager Ben Cherington and the baseball operations side of the organization.
Although Lester was at Fenway Park on Wednesday, in uniform and in the home dugout, the expectation remains that he will be traded before the 4 p.m. deadline. And almost as strong are the expectations that he won’t be the only one moved.
Fellow starter John Lackey’s name has floated as a trade target on Wednesday. Lefty reliever Andrew Miller is also coveted, and makes sense if the Sox back off what were reported to be over-the-top demands for his services. Koji Uehara could help a contender. Jonny Gomes should be on the radar of any team needing a right-handed bat. Stephen Drew could be useful for a team needing a good glove on the infield.Mike Carp has requested a trade after being buried on the bench for much of the season. And then there’s a chance the Sox could, while moving someone else, unload a contract they’re not comfortable with carrying. Edward Mujica comes to mind there, as might Shane Victorino in the right deal.
By the time they took the field Wednesday, though — some 21 hours until the deadline — Doubront was the only castoff since Jake Peavy was sent to San Francisco on Saturday.
In theory, a 26-year-old lefty who throws hard and is under team control until 2018 is exactly the type of player a last-place team like the Red Sox would be acquiring at this point, but Doubront punched his ticket out of town by getting allowing six runs in two-thirds of an inning on Monday night. Pummeled to the point his effort could be justifiably called into question, his ERA spiked to 6.07 for a season in which he missed a month after hitting his shoulder on a car door and subsequently complained about not starting.
Fearful of the culture an attitude like that could foster, the Sox didn’t bother waiting to see if Doubront would yet deliver on the promise he displayed at times — most notably during the World Series, when he registered the Game 4 win with 2.2 critical innings, after pitching two frames a day prior, and allowed the Cardinals just a run on two hits.
None of those types of concerns are driving the push to deal Lester. Farrell raved about the lefty Wednesday, even while intimating that the end of his time in Boston is near, and through this entire season Lester has seemingly done everything possible to avoid becoming a distraction to his team. He is a beloved teammate, and will long be remembered fondly at Fenway whenever he leaves.
More than likely, that’ll be today.
“What we have to do is take a step back from all this and know there’s decisions that are part of the business side of the game,” Farrell said, “and have faith in the fact that Ben has a clear-cut plan to get us back to a team that will contend.”
Dave D’Onofrio covers the Red Sox for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.