It's becoming more clear as the hours until the July 31 trade deadline dwindle that Jon Lester is going to be traded. If he's not, it won't be for lack of effort from the Red Sox, who are openly trying to move him before his scheduled start on Wednesday. Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Passan and Tim Brown are reporting that the Pirates are a "dark-horse" to land Lester before then, in a package centered around Double-A outfielder Josh Bell.
Bell is 21 years old and a 2011 second-round pick, but that lateness belies his talent both then and now. Bell was paid a $5 million bonus by the Pirates, and crushed High-A Bradenton to the tune of .335/.384/.502 with nine homers and 33 extra-base hits in 84 games. He's since been promoted to Double-A, and while he hasn't had the same success, he's young and has played all of 12 contests at the level. Even with his recent scuffle, it's a relief to see Bell performing well, considering he missed the 2012 season with a major knee injury. He bounced back in 2013 in his first full season in the pros, though, and has been excellent in 2014, and even joined Red Sox prospects Henry Owens and Sean Coyle on Team USA in July's Futures Game.
In fact, he hit his way into the mid-season top-50 lists for Baseball America (35), Baseball Prospectus (39), and ESPN's Keith Law (29) with that performance. Law suggests Bell is a left fielder in the long run thanks to his "fringy" arm, but that he's a "middle-of-the-order bat with the potential to hit for high averages and 25-30 homers a year." Xander Bogaerts could grow up to be the same kind of middle-of-the-order bat, but having two of them in what will eventually be a post-David Ortiz world is a good thing. Plus, it's unlikely Bell would be the entire return by himself, not with so many teams looking for Lester at the deadline: it would be Bell and then another good prospect, and possibly someone in the lower levels with a potential future.
You might not want to deal Lester, but at this stage, if the Red Sox aren't going to re-sign him, bringing in a high-level hitting prospect with middle-of-the-order potential makes a lot of sense at the deadline. The Sox would be filling a need with the assets they have -- namely, a soon-to-be-departed Lester -- then worry about replacing Lester himself once he's gone, either with other assets or money or both. We probably won't get to the second part of the plan until this off-season, but for now, Bell would be a solid start towards moving on, and immediately would become a promising part of Boston's youth-focused future.
A move like this doesn't quite signal to us what the Red Sox are planning for 2015, at least not completely, but moving Lester would at least show the Sox are resigned to the fact he's not coming back, even if it's because of their own actions (or inaction). Considering how the lineup has hit this year, getting back someone with Bell's promise makes sense, especially when he can be added to Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, and Blake Swihart down the line in what will be a very different looking Red Sox lineup in the next couple of years.