FORT MYERS, Fla. — Jon Lester is signed through the end of the coming season, with the Red Sox holding a $13 million option for 2014. Dustin Pedroia has two more years left on his deal, with the team holding an $11 million option on 2015.
Both are 29, squarely in the primes of their careers. That makes them candidates for extensions, Lester more so than Pedroia given that he has one fewer year on his contract. The Sox have been aggressive about locking up their homegrown stars and willing to discuss terms in spring training. Might the same happen again?
“I can’t rule it out. But I can’t rule it in, either,” general manager Ben Cherington said. “The closer a player is to free agency the more likely those conversations take place. For the team, there’s obviously a benefit to having players on a good contract and having control left. In a lot of cases, there’s incentive for a team to let it play out. When you have players who have done a lot for the team and mean a lot to the team, I think you always have to have an open door to a conversation.
“But that doesn’t mean it goes anywhere, and there’s nothing going on right now as I sit here today.”
In the case of Lester, the Red Sox might want to see improved performance before committing more dollars.
Lester was 65-27 with a 3.37 earned run average over 128 starts from 2007 through Aug. 1, 2011. He averaged 8.8 strikeouts per nine innings and was one of the best starters in the American League.
He is 13-19 with a 4.64 ERA in his 44 starts since, averaging 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings. That’s too many starts to be considered a stumble.
The Sox have not opened contract talks with Lester. But major league sources said they are open to the idea of extending Pedroia, although there is no pressure to act swiftly.
Two other prominent players — center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia — will be free agents after this season.
Once Ellsbury chose Scott Boras as his agent, the odds of his agreeing to an extension became negligible.
“Ellsbury is a very talented player and we know what he can do on the field when he’s feeling good physically,” Cherington said. “We’re obviously a better team when he’s on the field and we’d love for him to be a Red Sox for a long time.
“But I’m not going to get into anything other than that. We’ve had a good relationship with Jacoby and hope that continues.”
Saltalamacchia, like Lester, has something to prove after hitting .222 last season. The Red Sox also have Ryan Lavarnway available.
For beat writers armed with camera phones and Twitter accounts, righthander John Lackey has been a popular subject during the informal workouts.
Lackey lost considerable weight during the winter and doesn’t look like the same pitcher the Sox have had for three seasons.
“He’s gone through a transformation when you look at him,” manager John Farrell said.
Lackey had Tommy John surgery after the 2011 season. He spent last season with little to do but work out, and took advantage of that time.
“Clearly he’s dedicated himself to taking care of his body physically and the rehab work that he’s done from an arm standpoint,” Farrell said. “Where it really shows through at this point in camp and just being around is the confidence in which he speaks from. He’s in a good place right now.”
Farrell is generally impressed by how the pitchers have looked.
“Guys look to be in great condition. They’ve done their work in the offseason,” he said.
Drew the man
Once Stephen Drew was signed to a one-year, $9.5 million contract, that ended the idea of Jose Iglesias being the Red Sox’ starting shortstop this year.
“If Stephen’s healthy, he’s the shortstop,” Cherington said. “That’s what he was signed to come here and do.”
The Sox have cycled through shortstops since trading Nomar Garciaparra in 2004. The hope was Iglesias would end that. But now the 23-year-old is blocked by Drew and has prospects Xander Bogaerts and Deven Marrero closing in.
“I think we’re actually in as strong a position as we’ve been in some time as far as the shortstop depth in the system and the options we have,” Cherington said. “Certainly Iglesias is one of those, and Bogaerts, and Marrero, who you guys will see in camp, and past that some guys at the lower levels, too. We would still like to have a shortstop that we can count on for a number of years. We think hopefully we’re closer to that. Expect Stephen to do the job this year.”
On starting line
Alfredo Aceves competed for a job in the rotation last spring and ended up as a closer. He will work as a starter again this spring, but only in case of injury. The Sox also have assurances that Aceves will be a starter for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic . . . Farrell said Andrew Bailey has been “totally professional” about being replaced as closer by Joel Hanrahan. “He’s had a great attitude towards it. The way he handles himself through this situation will speak volumes to his teammates,” Farrell said . . . Mike Napoli and David Ross reported, as did Jason Varitek, now a special assistant to Cherington . . . Pitchers and catchers will have their physicals Monday and the first official workout is Tuesday. It was a quiet day at the complex Sunday outside of relievers Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara running some sprints.