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Cherington: Sox willing to make exceptions

PHOENIX -- With an opportunity to dismiss the assessment of one baseball executive that the Red Sox are willing to make a long-term offer to free-agent pitcher Jon Lester, general manager Ben Cherington did nothing of the sort Tuesday afternoon.

Instead, Cherington noted that while the Red Sox prefer contracts of shorter duration, they are willing to make exceptions.

“It’s never been a hard policy,” Cherington said at the baseball GM meetings here. “We’ve made exceptions, and I’m sure there will be another exception. It’s a case-by-case thing. If all the boxes are checked, sure, there will be a longer term deal. It’s just as we’ve done in the past.”

A baseball executive who has spoken with the Sox regarding their offseason plans predicted to ESPN Boston that the team will sign Lester, and may be prepared to offer as many as six years in a salary range that would average at least $20 million a year and could crack $130 million as a total package.

Cherington was asked if the Sox, who have expressed an aversion to offering five- or six-year deals to pitchers past the age of 30, would be willing to make an exception for Lester, who turns 31 in January.

“I guess it depends on what you mean by exception,” Cherington said. “We’re interested in having a conversation with him. We know guys like him, and there are others like him at the upper end of the free-agent market, are going to command good contracts.

“So, certainly our history with him and our comfort level with him, I suppose that’s one of those boxes I was talking about that’s checked. Beyond that, I can’t say more.

“We need to add to our rotation. He’s obviously a known commodity, a proven guy in our market. He’s of obvious interest.”

Cherington said he has had several conversations with Lester’s agent, Seth Levinson, since the end of the season, but had not yet met with him here. He said they plan to talk before Cherington leaves here Thursday.

The Chicago Cubs have been mentioned as a possible landing spot for Lester, but while the Cubs have made great strides in developing prospects, they may not yet be ready to contend next season, even with the addition of Lester. The left-hander has consistently maintained his preference is to be in Boston, a position he did not change ever after he was traded in July to Oakland.

Lester has pitched at least 200 innings in six of the last seven seasons. Since his recovery from cancer in 2007, he has been on the disabled list just once, for a strained lat muscle in his pitching shoulder in 2011.

Cherington noted that a player’s track record may be the best predictor of his ability to stay healthy. “Historically, they’re the best bet to keep doing it,” Cherington said, “but there’s no guarantee of doing it.”

An executive with another major league club said Tuesday he would not be surprised if the Sox re-signed Lester. “I don’t think they traded him in July knowing that he would come back,’’ the executive said. “There are too many variables out of their control.

“But I would not be surprised at all if they’ve decided they need him back, and are willing to increase their offer.”