Red Sox starter Jon Lester pops up on radar for Pirates

SAN FRANCISCO -- For an organization that prides itself on planning for the future and building a team through its farm system, the Pirates' interests in advance of the non-waiver trade deadline Thursday represent something of a departure from the norm.

The Pirates are interested in Boston Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester, according to sources. Lester is a two-month rental who will require multiple talented prospects from whichever team acquires him.

Pirates special assistant to the general manager Marc DelPiano was at Fenway Park Tuesday for the Red Sox-Toronto Blue Jays game, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has learned. DelPiano was a special assignment scout with the Red Sox from 2006-08, winning a World Series title with them in 2007 before joining the Pirates.

With less than 48 hours remaining before the trade deadline, every team has scouts and special assistants everywhere, but DelPiano's presence provides insight in two areas. DelPiano worked with Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington and assistants Mike Hazen and Brian O'Halloran before they were in their current roles, relationships that could be useful when negotiating a deal.

Having a front-office executive in Boston also could indicate that the Pirates are looking at Red Sox relievers, such as left-handers Andrew Miller or Craig Breslow. The Pirates have been interested in left-handed relievers.

Lester, 30, is in the middle of the best season of his nine-year career, with a 2.52 ERA and 149 strikeouts in 143 innings. He is earning $13 million in the final year of a five-year, $30 million contract. Whichever team acquired him would be responsible for about $4.2 million for the final two months. He would immediately anchor the rotation for the Pirates, who entered Tuesday at 56-49 and 11/2 games back of first-place Milwaukee.

A Yahoo Sports report published Tuesday afternoon detailed the Pirates' increased interest in Lester. The report also identified Class AA Altoona outfielder Josh Bell as one of the names in the discussions, a further oddity. A source said the Red Sox would need a hefty return to move Lester despite his status as a rental.

The Pirates have traded for rentals before -- Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick in 2011, Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau last year -- but not by parting with a top-tier prospect. They have shown they will deal top prospects, sending Colton Cain, Robbie Grossman and Rudy Owens to Houston for Wandy Rodriguez in 2012, but they had another year of contractual control with Rodriguez, plus a player option he was almost certain to exercise.

Recent trades for Gaby Sanchez, Travis Snider, Ike Davis and Ernesto Frieri netted players who still had a few years remaining before free agency. The Pirates also prefer to spend heavily in player development to produce everyday players, knowing they cannot compete with the rest of the league in free-agent spending.

Bell, 21, was the Pirates' preseason No. 7 prospect, according to Baseball America. He hit .335 with a .384 on-base percentage and nine home runs at Class A Bradenton and represented the Pirates at the Futures Game before earning a recent promotion to Altoona. The Pirates' young outfielders currently block him, but he likely has another season and a half at least before that becomes an issue. Even if the Pirates don't include Bell in an offer, they will need to part with top prospects to get Lester.

Tuesday afternoon, a source expected the Red Sox to trade Lester. Indications from another source were that Lester's strong season would make the acquisition worthwhile for the Pirates despite the high demand. Late Tuesday night the Red Sox scratched him from his scheduled start today against the Blue Jays, signaling they were planning to move him.

The Red Sox, who after winning the World Series last season are 48-58 and in last place in the American League East, have reportedly resigned themselves to trading Lester after a below-market extension offer of four years and $70 million in spring training went nowhere.

Considering Cincinnati starter Homer Bailey got six years and $105 million and Lester's teammate, John Lackey, got five years and $82.5 million in 2009, the Red Sox might have low-balled Lester. As he continued to pitch well and moved closer to free agency, his value increased, and indications are the Red Sox want to move him because they know they don't have much of a chance to re-sign him this winter.

Because Lester won't have pitched for the same team all season, the Pirates could not recoup a compensatory draft pick if they traded for him, made a qualifying offer and he signed elsewhere.

In addition to the Pirates, the St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers, Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles and Seattle Mariners are believed to be interested in starters, with the Cardinals, Brewers and Dodgers in on Lester, according to the New York Post.

■ FYI: Teams have until 4 p.m. Thursday to trade players without first passing them through waivers. After 4 p.m. Thursday, all players must clear waivers before being traded.

Bill Brink: and Twitter @BrinkPG.

First Published July 29, 2014 1:00 AM

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