"No deal yet," a major league source with direct knowledge of Lester trade talks said Tuesday night. "He could still pitch Friday for the Red Sox against the Yankees."
Brandon Workman will be recalled from Triple-A to start in Lester's place Wednesday, manager John Farrell announced after Tuesday night's 4-2 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.
"I think in light of all the uncertainty surrounding Jon Lester, it's probably in everyone's best interest that he not make that start, so Brandon will be recalled," Farrell said. "There will be a corresponding move roster-wise at some point tomorrow."
Lester left the clubhouse immediately after Tuesday's game, before it was opened to the media. Another source close to Lester said no one from the Red Sox had said a word to either the pitcher or his agent, Seth Levinson, regarding a trade Tuesday night.
Farrell had taken the highly unusual step of announcing before Tuesday's game that in the event Lester was traded, Workman would draw the start. Customarily, teams do not announce contingencies in the event of a trade, announcing roster moves only after a deal is consummated. That only fueled speculation that a deal was close.
The Pittsburgh Pirates emerged Tuesday as a potential trading partner for Lester, with a source confirming that the Sox have had talks with the Pirates regarding the left-hander. "Don't count out the Pirates,'' said one source with knowledge of those talks.
The same source added: "Lots of teams are still in it."
There are six teams still in the running, the source said, listing them in no particular order: the Pirates, Blue Jays, Oakland Athletics, St. Louis Cardinals, Baltimore Orioles and Los Angeles Dodgers. The Red Sox are seeking two top prospects in return and are particularly interested in outfielders.
"They're using what the Cubs got back from Oakland for [Jeff] Samardzija as their model," an industry source said Tuesday. "They got Oakland's top prospect [Addison Russell] and another No. 1 pick."
The difference, of course, is that while Lester is regarded as a better pitcher with a longer track record, he is a two-month rental, while Samardzija is still a full year away from free agency. Still, Lester could be a difference-maker for any contender.
If the Sox are looking for outfield prospects in return, the Pirates would seem to match up well, led by 21-year-old Josh Bell, a switch-hitting slugger just promoted to Double-A after tearing up Class A Bradenton with a .335 average, and 2013 first-round draft pick Austin Meadows, a 19-year-old left-handed hitter judged to have the system's best strike zone discipline by Baseball America.
The market for starting pitching has shifted dramatically because of Boston's inability to re-sign Lester to an extension and the unexpected fall from contention by the defending World Series winners, who are in last place in the American League East with a 48-59 record, 11 games under .500 with 55 to go.
The Sox, losers of seven of their past eight games, are a season-high 12 games behind the Orioles in the division.
The other factor making a huge impact on the market is the remarkable recovery of the Tampa Bay Rays, who on June 10 were 24-42, 18 games under .500, and fully expected to trade ace left-hander David Price. Since then, the Rays have gone 29-12, a .707 winning percentage that is the best in baseball since that date, and drew to within a game of .500 with their 5-1 win Tuesday night over the Milwaukee Brewers.
There are teams that still believe the Rays will trade Price, but the club's performance has made that a much less certain proposition for GM Andrew Friedman.
The Red Sox typically have not traded within the division but might make an exception in Lester's case, especially since the left-hander said his No. 1 preference as a free agent would be to re-sign with the Red Sox. His stance certainly could change once he plays for another team, but it is one reason the Sox would risk trading him within the division.
The Lester deal is only one of several the Red Sox are working on. The interest in left-handed reliever Andrew Miller is "crazy," one club source said, with numerous teams still in the running. Atlanta has been prominently mentioned as a club with keen interest in Miller, but quality relievers always command considerable attention at the deadline.
While numerous observers were dismissive about an ESPN Boston report about the Sox interest in Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp and the possibility that he could be part of a Lester deal, the Sox have been scouting Kemp for at least the last month, according to an industry source. The $107 million remaining on Kemp's contract would make a deal difficult to execute, and with the Dodgers playing well, GM Ned Colletti may have little interest in breaking up his outfield combination, although a healthy Kemp could well pop up on the Sox radar again in the offseason.
The Kansas City Royals, a source said, have inquired about John Lackey, and the Royals also retain interest in right-handed hitting outfielder Jonny Gomes. Lackey is scheduled to start Friday against the Yankees, and because of a unique contract that calls for him to be paid the major league minimum next season, a number of teams have checked on his availability.
Sinkerballing right-hander Burke Badenhop could also have appeal for a contender seeking relief help, and the Sox also are known to be open to deals for Felix Doubront, Mike Carp, Craig Breslow and Edward Mujica.
"We have been working on all possibilities,'' a club source said.