"Why does it mean I'm out of Boston?" Lester said when asked about the Fox Sports report, which said the last Red Sox offer to their ace was four years and $70 million -- well below the prospective free agent's perceived market value.
A major league source confirmed to ESPNBoston.com the terms of the Red Sox's latest offer "give or take." That average annual value of $17.5 million would lag well below the $20 million-plus that is becoming the norm for top-of-the-rotation starters. This winter, two-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw topped all pitchers with an AAV of $30.7 million when he signed a seven-year, $215 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Lester and the Red Sox ended contract extension talks at the end of spring training.
"I can't really comment on anything as far as details of contracts and talks or anything," said Lester, who is set to enter free agency after this season. "Like I've stated before, this is where I want to be. I feel like [Red Sox management has] stated that with things that they've said. We've talked about this before. This stuff can be not only a distraction for an individual but a distraction for a team, so we've put it on hold. That doesn't mean I'm going anywhere. Things can definitely change."
Unlike negotiations on a contract extension for Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, which carried over into last season before being finalized in July, Lester said talks have been tabled until after this season. Unlike Lester, Pedroia was not eligible for free agency.
"Any time you drag things along, then it starts wearing on you, wearing on the team," Lester said. "But like I said, all the talks were amicable and responsive and positive. But we just didn't get a deal done before their deadline of Opening Day."
Lester indicated in January that he was willing to take a "hometown" discount to remain in Boston. But for the time being, at least, there is an obvious disconnect between what the Red Sox offered and how much of a discount Lester is willing to take. He is in a strong negotiating position, given that he and Detroit Tigers right-hander Max Scherzer appear to be the most attractive starting pitchers potentially available on the free-agent market after this season.
The Red Sox, however, may be disinclined to offer the years and dollars that are becoming the norm for signing starting pitchers. There are 10 starters with contracts that have AAVs of $20 million or higher, and six- and seven-year deals have become standard for top pitchers.
"They're trying to set up their business for the future," Lester said. "They're weighing risk. I can't just stand up and say, 'Pay me, pay me, pay me.' "
In an interview with WEEI last week, Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington spoke of how "challenging" it was to strike a deal in this environment with Lester. His comments made it clear that extending the 30-year-old left-hander is by no means a slam dunk.
"The devil's in the details on any significant contract, whether it's for Lester or anybody else that we're talking about a long-term deal," Cherington said. "... He's got a lot going for him, and he's just a few months from free agency at a time when we all see what's happened with starting pitching in the free-agent market and the contracts that have come down over the past two, three years. That segment of the population has clearly moved at least in terms of free agent dollars, so that creates a dynamic when you're trying to work on a contract.
"That makes it challenging, and we have to look at it through our own lens. As we've stated -- and [Red Sox owner] John Henry said this and I said this -- we want Jon Lester to be here. We will work as hard as we can to try to make that work, but there are things that other teams might do that we just won't do. ... We're just going to keep working at it. While we're not currently, we'll be working on it at the right time, and when there's a desire on both sides, there's always a chance."