The Red Sox seem to be focused on getting their former ace Jon Lester back into a Boston uniform for 2015. Should they miss out, however, it sounds like a trade for Philadelphia's Cole Hamels is emerging as the backup plan. Or at least that's what the Phillies think. Per Jeff Passan:
The Phillies are confident that if Red Sox don't get Jon Lester, Boston's desire for an ace will make a Cole Hamels trade very likely.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) November 24, 2014
The Red Sox have certainly been linked to Hamels often enough in recent months, but it's not hard to see why he's not their first choice. If the Red Sox sign Jon Lester, then all they're giving up is money. To get Hamels, however, the Sox will have to trade away talent, and it sounds as though the asking price is higher than Boston would like to pay right now. Still, Bob Nightengale says the Red Sox have been the most active team in Hamels' market thus far:
There have been suggestions of late that, should the Phillies prove unable to find a taker for Hamels at their current asking price, they would be willing to compromise in the months to come. But if there are enough teams desperate enough for front-line pitching when the market works itself out, that might not prove the case.
With the expectation being that Hamels will require the Red Sox to pick up his option year in exchange for waiving his no-trade clause, there's really little incentive for the Sox to go with Hamels over Lester. Or, rather, there is a great deal of incentive for the Red Sox to get Jon Lester to sign. At four years, Hamels would at least be a lower-risk acquisition than Lester, and the Red Sox could look at it as paying a price in prospects to keep that risk down. But when we're talking five years, the difference just isn't great enough between Hamels' contract and a likely Lester deal to justify the cost. Essentially, the Red Sox should be motivated to go the extra mile for Lester knowing that any extra expense they have to meet to get him aboard can be seen as the cost of keeping Mookie Betts (or some ridiculous package of prospects) around for years to come.
So if the Hamels safety net exists, it's really just there to remind the Red Sox why they really need to land their first choice in Jon Lester.