The Jon Lester contract situation got quite a bit more confusing last night. First, Buster Olney dropped a minor bombshell during Boston's game against the Yankees:
Filed to ESPN: Red Sox have re-engaged Jon Lester in contract talks -- but may face a tough choice, this close to his free agency.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) June 30, 2014
By itself, a very positive sign. The team certainly needs to know where it stands, if nothing else. But it didn't take long for Rob Bradford to throw the brakes on:
And shortly thereafter it was Jon Lester himself denying the story:
Lester on extension "talks": "I don’t think they’ve started anything. Nothing as far as a contract or numbers or anything."— Tim Britton (@TimBritton) June 30, 2014
So what the heck is going on?
Certainly Lester's denial is more or less par for the course. When a team and player are actually trying to come to an agreement, adding media and market attention isn't really going to help anything get done. But that the various beats are coming up with nothing (Nick Cafardo corroborated Bradford's report) is slightly more convincing.
So let's put on our conspiracy hats for a moment and figure out what might cause this discrepancy.
We'll apply Occam's razor for the first two, more obvious theories. Either Buster Olney or his source were simply putting too much emphasis on Lester and the organization keeping in touch, or the Red Sox are running a fairly tight ship on this, with Olney's source the only leak.
Now let's get a little more out there: is this what we'd be hearing if the Red Sox were trying to trade Jon Lester?
I'd have to say yes. Jon Lester is one of the biggest names in Boston, and any move that sends him out of town is going to evoke quite a bit of controversy. The best way for the Red Sox to navigate those waters would be to be seen making an earnest effort to sign him--they certainly couldn't leave things on the 4-year, $70 million offer we heard about back in April--but finding themselves unable to come to an agreement. If Lester then signs a huge extension with whatever team he's traded to, all the better for the story.
With just one month left to go before the trade deadline, the Red Sox have to get the Lester situation sorted out now. Whether they trade him or sign him, they have to know what they're doing before they let the opportunity to get more than a supplemental draft pick pass them by. Allowing Lester to leave in free agency should be considered a completely unacceptable outcome, which means that letting the situation get to the point where that is a possibility should be considered unacceptable in itself. How organizations handle impending free agents of Lester's caliber can change their fortunes for years to come.
With that in mind, whether they're planning to keep him or trade him, I'd tend to think that Olney is correct in saying that the Red Sox have started moving again. There's just not that much time left before they have to make a move one way or another. The question is whether the Red Sox are just putting on a bit of a performance, or if they're actually looking to lock Lester up for years to come.