With the Orioles seemingly unwilling to hand over the top prospects the Red Sox require, the Jon Lester trade market has opened back up. According to FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal, the Pirates and the Cardinals are currently "pushing hardest" to acquire the Red Sox ace, while the Dodgers are still keeping an eye on things.
The Cardinals acquired Justin Masterson from the Indians on Wednesday, but they have more potential rotation issues than Masterson can fix unless the full array of Cardinals' Magic is used on his sinker. One of their best, Michael Wacha, was transferred to the 60-day disabled list to make room on the 40-man for Masterson, and he won't be eligible to return until the Cardinals are almost two-thirds of the way through August. Jaime Garcia was already on the 60-day, as he's out for the year with shoulder surgery. Shelby Miller is currently in the rotation for the Cardinals, but he's been awful in his sophomore campaign, and could likely either pull something in as a trade piece, or could shift to the bullpen until another spot opens up as a starter. Offense is hard to come by this trade deadline, so more pitching is where the Cardinals are going to have to look if they plan to improve for the stretch run, and Jon Lester is the best piece that's truly available with that goal in mind.
As for the Pirates, their rotation of Francisco Liriano, Edinson Volquez, Charlie Morton, Jeff Locke, and the occasional Brandon Cumpton start is not getting it done. Only Morton and Locke have been even average starters to this point, and while Gerrit Cole has the potential to be much better than that, he's been slowed by injury and hasn't dazzled when on the mound. Even if the Pirates manage to sneak into October with this poor excuse for a playoff rotation, they likely wouldn't last long against more talented pitching staffs: it's not as if their offense is that great, even if it's better than average. They might need Jon Lester more than anyone else vying for a playoff spot, as the rotation needs a piece they can rely on every five days, someone who can go up against the best other teams have. Jeff Locke isn't that guy.
The Dodgers are only keeping watch instead of aggressively negotiating because they reportedly have no interest in giving up one of their top prospects -- Julio Urias, Corey Seager, or Joc Pederson -- for a rental. This makes one wonder if their real intent is to pry John Lackey from the Red Sox once a Lester trade elsewhere is complete: Lackey is not a rental, and while he's also not Lester, he's only owed $500,000 in 2015 thanks to a Tommy John-triggered option in his contract, giving him an oddly imbalanced market value as a trade piece. Keeping tabs on the Lester situation allows them to know what the Sox are looking for and who they like, so they can strike quickly for Lackey once he's truly available. Lackey could be a significant boost -- or at least a far more reliable one -- than Josh Beckett, whose hip is giving him trouble, and Dan Haren, whose inability to pitch well is giving the Dodgers trouble.