Lester scratched from start; trade talks continue

The Red Sox did nothing to diminish rumors that Jon Lester will be traded to a contender when they scratched him from Wednesday night’s start against the Blue Jays.

“Yeah, Brandon Workman will start tomorrow,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell. “In light of all the uncertainty surrounding Jon Lester, it’s probably in everyone’s best interests that he does not make that start, so Brandon will be recalled. There will be a corresponding move roster-wise at some point tomorrow.”

By scratching Lester from his Wednesday start, the Red Sox could increase the urgency of their suitors to sweeten their offer in advance of Thursday’s 4 p.m. ET deadline.

Also, Lester becomes more attractive to a potential suitor if he can pitch immediately after a trade, rather than having to wait until Monday.

Numerous teams have talked to the Red Sox about Lester, and there was a lot of buzz about the Pirates on Tuesday. The Dodgers are another possible destination, though they’ve thus far been unwilling to part with the type of top prospects (Corey Seager, Joc Pederson) the Red Sox seek. The Marlins have also expressed interest, according to Jim Bowden of MLB Network radio.

While Red Sox veterans were still hoping the lefty would stay, they were bracing for the possibility of his exit.

“Yeah, it’s tough,” said Dustin Pedroia, who came up with Lester through the farm system and has won a pair of World Series titles with him. “We’re not teammates – we’re family. It’s something you don’t like going through. It makes you feel worse. We don’t want to be in this position. I know a lot of guys feel that if you play up to your capability … we should be adding instead of subtracting. Hopefully he’s here.”

High asking price for Lester

MIAMI — The Marlins are seeking a game-changing starter, and Jon Lester would be the ideal candidate to make a playoff push. But at what price?

Boston, in the market for outfield help, would seek Christian Yelich in return for Lester, a two-time World Series champion. Miami has no interest in parting with a 22-year-old pure hitter with All-Star potential.

In fact, Miami is not willing to part with any core player on the big league roster.

It’s unclear if the Marlins are continuing to pursue Lester for a lesser package. But what is clear is the front office is scrambling to make a move or two by Thursday’s non-waiver Trade Deadline.

Lester, a free agent after the season, would be a rental in Miami. The Marlins ideally are seeking a starter they can control beyond 2014. A possibility in Boston could be John Lackey, who also has World Series experience. The price would be much less for Lackey than Lester.

Lackey is signed through 2015, and his salary will be tendered at the league minimum because he underwent a second Tommy John surgery. That language was written into his current contract.

If Tampa Bay were to make David Price available, the Marlins would have heavy interest.

Joe Frisaro

Rays’ Zobrist ‘can’t imagine anything being broke up’

ST. PETERSBURG — With David Price standing in the local and national spotlight prior to Thursday’s non-waiver Trade Deadline, Ben Zobrist has almost flown under the radar.

But he’s been the subject of many trade rumors, and he’s shown lately why he’s such an interesting target.

Zobrist hit a game-tying homer and a go-ahead double in the Rays’ 5-1 win over the Brewers on Tuesday, improving Tampa Bay’s record to 53-54. The Rays were 24-42 through June 10, and they’re a win Wednesday away from being the fourth team in Major League history to fall to 18 games below .500 and return to that mark.

Nobody’s ever overcome that deficit and reached the postseason. The Rays believe they can. While everyone’s been talking about how the Rays are playing to keep Price, manager Joe Maddon insists their goal is even loftier.

“Yeah, we’re playing for the World Series. That’s our objective. It’s been from Day 1. For me, it’s to get to the playoffs and to win the World Series,” Maddon said. “I’m telling you, we’re one of the best teams in the American League. Our record is not reflecting it yet, but if we keep playing like this, it soon shall. There’s a lot of time left.”

But is there a lot of time left for players like Price and Zobrist? Price is slated to start Wednesday’s 12:10 p.m. ET game, unsure where he’ll make the start after that but ready for an answer.

CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman reported Tuesday that the Rays are “talking and willing” to deal Price despite the Rays winning 11 of their last 12 and 29 of 41 since June 11. It makes sense: If Tampa Bay was willing to consider trading Price this offseason — when they were zero games out of any race — why not do so now when the odds aren’t as favorable?

“This is the team we are. We knew that this was the team we could be in Spring Training. It just took a long time for it to show up,” Zobrist said. “I don’t think we’re ever going to return to the way we were playing prior to June 11.”

Back to Zobrist. He’s hitting .344/.440/.563 (33-for-96) with four homers and 15 RBIs since June 28. He’s drawn 15 walks and only struck out six times this month. He’s dealt with fewer questions from reporters about his future than Price has, but he’s also performing like someone who wants to talk Andrew Friedman’s front office out of a sell-off.

The Rays likely will continue to assess their chances right up to the Deadline. But Price, Zobrist and Co. have made a compelling argument to stay.

“We’ve been playing so well that I haven’t been worrying about it too much. I think right now, it’s just so much fun to play with this club that it’s like, I can’t imagine anything being broke up at this point,” Zobrist said. “We seem to be a very, very good team in August and September. If history dictates anything, we’re going to continue to play the way that we can play for the last two months of the season.”

-Adam Berry

Pirates have their own deadline for Lester deal

The Pirates continue to chat with the Red Sox about getting the pitcher they want without giving up what Boston wants.

Not only do the Bucs want to land left-hander Jon Lester, they want to bag him quickly. Forget Thursday’s 4 p.m. ET non-waiver Trade Deadline; the Pirates have their own deadline – 7 p.m. ET tomorrow, before Lester takes his scheduled turn in Fenway Park against Toronto.

Lester is a difference maker, and if things work out, the Pirates don’t want him using up any more bullets in Boston.

Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington’s refusal to part with top prospects for a two-month rental — Lester will be a free agent after the season, and the Bucs couldn’t even afford the deal he has already turned  down from the Red Sox — makes the players most coveted by the Red Sox off limits. Tyler Glasnow, Nick Kingham, Jameson Taillon, Josh Bell and Austin Meadows are not on the table.

Boston’s desperate move for Stephen Drew failed, and the Bucs are trying to drum up their interest in Alen Hanson. Hot Single-A outfielder Jacoby Jones (16 homers at West Virginia) is also in the conversation, and Major League vet Jose Tabata — still only 25 — is a wild card in the talks.

Lester could only be the starting point of any business with the Red Sox. During Spring Training, the Pirates had interest in Mike Carp, the left-handed hitting first baseman / outfielder who has burned his Boston bridges by recently requesting a trade. The Bucs also have interest in virtually the entire Red Sox bullpen.

The situation described here can also apply to another lefty, David Price. And the Rays have recently had scouts watching Double-A Altoona (Bell and Hanson are both with the Curve). However, if their current hot streak hasn’t changed the Rays’ minds about dealing Price, it has at the very least escalated his price out of what the Pirates would consider.

Tom Singer

Teams looking for dance partner

Cubs GM Jed Hoyer has had plenty of conversations with other teams prior to Thursday’s Trade Deadline but said they may not make another deal.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if we made no moves,” Hoyer said Tuesday. “I expect to be active, we’re having a lot of conversations. It’s still early. [Wednesday] is sort of moving day. I expect things will get more serious as we move into tomorrow. People have some reluctance on the last day.

“[Wednesday] evening is when a lot of people hone in on the deals they want to make,” he said.

The Cubs made their blockbuster move on July 4, trading starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Athletics for four players, including highly touted shortstop Addison Russell and outfielder Billy McKinney.

Other teams are still trying to find the right match.

“People try to find a dance partner on the 30th and 31st,” Hoyer said. “As you get to [Wednesday] evening, people want to make deals and they’re more willing to pair up, and I expect that to be the same thing.”

There has been some interest in the Cubs’ left-handed relievers, James Russell and Wesley Wright.

– Carrie Muskat

Os looking to add pitching depth, hesitant to trade top prospects

Last year, the Orioles successfully added to their pitching staff, upgrading the rotation with right-hander Bud Norris in a last-minute midseason deal with the Houston Astros. And while Baltimore is looking once again to add pitching, there’s a lot less certainty that it will be able to acquire an arm that’s significantly better than what the team already has.

“The starters, the way they’ve been pitching the last six weeks, that’s encouraging,” Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said of a rotation that has chopped a half-run off its collective ERA in pitching to a low 3 ERA since June 9. “So I guess I don’t know if we would acquire a top starter, but we would be looking for pitching depth.”

The O’s have been incredibly active in trade discussions in the weeks leading up to Thursday’s non-waiver Trade Deadline, and there’s been no shortage of names linked in Baltimore’s pursuit of pitching.Ian Kennedy, Cliff Lee, A.J. Burnett and Jorge De La Rosa are among the names the club has kicked around. There’s also been a wealth of interest in the young arms Duquette and Co. have accumulated, a high cost that likely takes any kind of marquee trade for a starter off the table.

“We have some really talented young prospects, [like] Kevin Gausman, who is now pitching for the big leagues. Obviously other teams are interested in having a pitcher like Kevin Gausman on their team,” Duquette said of the 23-year-old righty, who is on several opposing teams’ radar, including Colorado. “[There's] a lot of interest in Hunter Harvey, Eduardo Rodgriguez is pitching pretty well, and of course Dylan Bundy. There’s a lot of interest in our young pitching from other teams.”

Duquette has been hesitant to part with the team’s top pitching prospects in the past, and by all indications, that continues to be the case, as the Orioles — who are in first place in the American League East — know the importance of building from within. They also know how fleeting success can be, and Duquette wants to get something done in the next few days. If the club can’t land a starter, there’s also the need for bullpen help in the sixth and seventh innings — preferably left-handed — and potential offensive upgrades at catcher and second base.

“The way I look at it is we have an opportunity to add to our team and continue our path to the postseason,” Duquette said. “So it’s a little bit more challenging to add to your team after the first [of August].”

Phillies second baseman Chase Utley is an interesting name that figures to command a nice haul, while Twins veteran catcher Kurt Suzuki has been linked to the club in recent days. The O’s had interest in Padres outfielder Seth Smith, but his recent contract extension makes the chances of acquiring the lefty pretty slim. There’s also the case of how to fit in another left-handed bat on the team’s roster with David Lough currently serving as Baltimore’s backup center fielder.

Duquette, like most GMs, is waiting for the asking prices to drop as Thursday’s Trade Deadline inches nearer. The Orioles have already made a minor move in adding outfielder Jimmy Paredes from the Padres last week — and sending him to Triple-A — but they could be poised to add someone to the big league roster in the next few days.

“We’ve had some active discussions with a lot of clubs, that have been ongoing for the last couple weeks,” Duquette said. “We’ve been maintaing dialogue for a number of things.”

Marlins listed among teams in on Lester

MIAMI — Winning eight of nine has the Marlins in complete “buy mode” as Thursday’s non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches.

It appears the club is aiming high in its search for veteran help to make a playoff push.

According to Jim Bowden of ESPN and MLB Network Radio, Miami is one of seven teams who have reached out to the Red Sox regarding Jon Lester.

If the front office is looking to send a signal to the clubhouse and South Florida fan base, pulling off a deal for the two-time World Series champion would do the trick.

Lester, owed just over $4 million for the rest of the season, would be a rental, because he will be a free agent in the fall.

The asking price in terms of prospects would certainly be high. So the question would be how much Miami would be willing to give up for a shot at making a serious push in the final two months.

Bowden reported the Blue Jays, Brewers, Mariners, Cardinals, Dodgers and Orioles also have expressed interest in Lester.

The Marlins are suddenly rejuvenated after taking six of seven at Atlanta and Houston. On Monday night, the club pulled off its biggest comeback of the year — rallying to a 7-6 victory over the Nationals after trailing by six.

Ideally, the Marlins would like more than a rental. They’d prefer a starter with controllable years. None of the candidates would make the immediate impact of Lester.

The Marlins are in a tricky spot because they are a game under .500, and have plenty of ground to make up. They’re six games behind the Nationals and 5 1/2 games behind the Braves.

Miami has greatly exceeded expectations, and also are looking for a second baseman.

The rotation has been without Jose Fernandez since May, when the 2013 National League Rookie of the Year underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery.

Miami is open to moving prospects, but is trying to avoid dealing Andrew Heaney.

The Marlins also are looking to avoid moving anyone off their active roster.

Joe Frisaro

Pirates in on Jon Lester?

The Pirates are slugging it out in a tough race in the National League Central, and they may be working on adding an All-Star to their rotation. Yahoo Sports reported Tuesday that the Pirates are emerging on the periphery of the talks to acquire Jon Lester from Boston.

Several teams have been linked to Lester in the last few weeks, and the southpaw is thriving with a 10-7 record and a 2.52 ERA for the Red Sox this season. Lester, who can be a free agent after the season, has said that he’d consider going back to Boston even if he’s traded.

The Pirates should have Gerritt Cole returning from the disabled list in August, so adding Lester could really give the team an additional boost. Lester could cost Pittsburgh heavy-hitting prospect Josh Bell, a former second-round draftee who was recently promoted to Double-A.

– Spencer Fordin

Disclaimer: No indication Rockies owner can be swayed into dealing Tulo … Still, team has to be prepared if talks occur

We preface everything here with the simple statement, based on conversations with sources inside and outside the Rockies organization:

Owner Dick Monfort has no interest in trading shortstop Troy Tulowitzki at Thursday afternoon’s non-waiver Trade Deadline. The belief that a healthy Rockies club, with an improved rotation and a bullpen overhaul, is a winner next season means odds are against Monfort moving Tulowitzki — signed for extreme riches through 2020 — this offseason.

But the way to not get caught off guard is to be prepared, even if you know nothing may happen.

In the days leading to the Trade Deadline, the Rockies are getting ready for the magic phone call, even if it’s not coming.

The Rockies spent much of Monday studying the Mets organization, looking at current Major Leaguers and prospects, and gauging the abilities of young pitchers who have not reached their arbitration years. Any Mets pitcher who is anyone, whether he is working in Queens – like National League Rookie of the Year candidate Jacob deGrom – or prospects such as righty Noah Syndergaard (No. 1 on the MLB.com Mets Top 20 Prospects list) or Rafael Montero (No. 6), the Rockies are prepared to discuss. If the names of numerous position players come up, the Rockies are prepared.

But here’s the thing. Mets general manager Sandy Alderson on Monday said it is “unlikely” the team will make any deal, and sources throughout the game are saying it’s unlikely anything serious will occur with the Rockies. And, as can’t be stated enough, it’s all fantasy unless Monfort changes his belief that the Rockies will win with Tulowitzki.

But that’s the way these things work. Oh, it’s not only the Mets. We hear the Rockies have beefed up their knowledge on the Cardinals and the Angels – two teams with the money and Major League-ready players to make the Rockies’ baseball people at least listen if they were to call – and a few other teams that may have interest. Speaking of which, since Tulowitzki’s showing up at Yankee Stadium Sunday sparked so many conspiracy theories, we are told the Yankees are not one of the teams that the Rockies believe have players it takes to pull off a Tulowizki deal.

There’s absolutely no indication either team will make that call before the deadline. Nonetheless, the Rockies want to have detailed information if talks ever begin.

Other fronts appear to be quiet, although there is interest.

• We identified the Pirates as a team that is taking a look at Rockies closer LaTroy Hawkins, and now we’re told that 5-6 clubs are interested in Hawkins, knowing he can pitch in any situation. But two issues are making it hard to deal the 41-year-old reliever with the ageless right arm:

The Rockies believe his influence is strong enough on young players and young pitchers that they want to keep him around, even though the team is in last place.

The Rockies’ requirement for help at the start of next season, plus pitchers under club control applies to Hawkins. Teams in contention haven’t offered what the Rockies want.

• It’s doubtful the Rockies will move lefty Jorge De La Rosa, who has pitched better at Coors than any pitcher in their history. The Rockies have been listening when clubs inquire, but after it surfaced that the Rockies coveted Orioles righty Kevin Gausman and a whole haul of prospects, no other team’s interest made it to the rumor stage. Expect the Rockies to make the $14 million qualifying offer to De La Rosa, a free agent after this season, and use that as the basis for keeping him.

• While the Rockies have scouted lefty Brett Anderson since his return from a broken left index finger, but there are no active discussions. The Rockies are expected to pick up Anderson’s $12 million option for next season.

– Thomas Harding

Defending champs focal point of deadline

Seldom has a defending World Series champion been so clearly in the middle of the action from a sellers’ perspective leading into the July 31 trade deadline. But such is life for a Red Sox team that was 48-58 entering play on Tuesday, and 8 1/2 games out for  a Wild Card spot.

Jon Lester’s availability for an elite prospect has been well-chronicled, with teams near and far checking in on the ace lefty. But John Lackey has also found his way into the middle of the rumor mill and has a more team-friendly contract for an acquiring team than Lester, who is a free agent at season’s end. When Lackey signed with the Red Sox, an extra year at the player minimum was tacked on to the end of the contract if Lackey ever missed a season due to elbow woes. That’s exactly what happened in 2012, and 2015 is the year Lackey gets paid the minimum.

Andrew Miller, who has been a dominant lefty reliever at times for the Sox this season, is a free agent at the end of the season and another enticing potential addition for a lot of contenders. The one player the Red Sox are very hesitant to deal is their reliable closer Koji Uehara, who would likely return to Boston for the qualifying offer in 2015. Uehara will be 40 next April.

Lester takes the ball for the Red Sox on Wednesday night in what should be a high-drama event, given Thursday’s 4 p.m. ET deadline.

Ian Browne

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