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Sunday, June 29, 2014
Jon Lester denies new contract talks

By Buster Olney
ESPN The Magazine

Red Sox ace Jon Lester is eligible for free agency after this season, but the team is taking what might be one last run at trying to sign the left-hander, according to sources.

The Red Sox have re-engaged Lester's representation in recent hours, according to sources, following up on talks that stalled in April, when Boston offered Lester $70 million over four years. But Lester is in the midst of what has been arguably the best start of his career, with a 2.92 ERA in 17 games -- including 115 strikeouts in 114 innings and 29 starts -- and the finish line might have shifted for the Red Sox.

Sources say Boston has upgraded its offer to Lester, but after Sunday's 8-5 win over the New York Yankees, Lester denied that the Red Sox have resumed contract talks with the left-hander.

"There has been no offer, there have been no new talks,'' Lester said. "I've been talking to [general manager] Ben [Cherington] all along, but that's nothing new. There is no new offer.

"I don't think they've started anything. I know there's been conversation throughout the season, just different topics. ... Nothing about contract, numbers, anything like that.''

The sides broke off talks this spring, after the Red Sox made the $70 million deal that was rejected by Lester and his representatives, Sam and Seth Levinson, with the sides agreeing to table talks until after the season. Sox CEO Larry Lucchino has said that the Sox planned to approach Lester before the end of the season, and Saturday night, Lester acknowledged the possibility that the Sox might make an overture during the All-Star break.

He added he didn't think anything could be done in such a short window, and questioned the wisdom of engaging in talks during the season.

"I've said this to Ben, my biggest concern is something bad happening [talks falling apart]. Obviously both sides want to get something done, but what if we don't? It's Boston, it's going to get leaked at some point, and then it's a distraction. We don't need distractions. We need to worry about playing good baseball."

The trajectory of the Lester negotiations have closely resembled those of the Cole Hamels talks with the Phillies a couple of years ago. The Phillies dangled offers in the range of $80 million and then $100 million before the start of the 2012 season, which was perceived by Hamels as below his market value -- less, at the time, than the $112.5 million extension Matt Cain got from the Giants.


Hamels reached July without a contract, and the Phillies had a choice that the Red Sox might soon have to make: pay their prospective free agent near the top of the market, or let their star left-hander go into the open market. Philadelphia capitulated, giving Hamels a six-year, $144 million deal, or about 80 percent more than what they offered just the previous fall.


The numbers have only climbed since then, with Felix Hernandez getting $175 million from the Mariners, Clayton Kershaw signing for $215 million from the Dodgers, and the Yankees investing a $20 million posting fee and a $155 million contract in Masahiro Tanaka.

ESPNBoston.com's Gordon Edes contributed to this article.