SAN DIEGO — There is one pitcher whose shadow hangs over the first day of baseball's annual winter meetings, but Jon Lester could soon make a decision that has wide-ranging effects. That, at least, is the hope of Phillies officials who have engaged numerous teams on another prized pitcher, Cole Hamels.
Lester could sign with a team "no later than" Tuesday, ESPN.com reported Monday. The Red Sox, Cubs, Dodgers and Giants are all rumored to have interest in Lester, who turns 31 next month. Those teams have identified Hamels as a backup plan.
The Phillies do not have a horse in the Lester sweepstakes. They have done extensive background work on Boston and Los Angeles prospects. If San Francisco signs Lester, that would leave three powerful teams seeking an ace pitcher. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has a better chance at extracting top prospects with more competition for Hamels.
They could match best with the Dodgers, according to a handful of executives and scouts polled. All teams are reluctant to deal elite prospects, but Boston is said to be especially stingy. The Phillies, a team desperate for outfield reinforcements, could target Joc Pederson in a trade with Los Angeles.
The Dodgers could align Hamels with Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke to form the game's most powerful rotation trio. Andrew Friedman, restricted for years in Tampa Bay from these types of trades, could make his first big splash as Dodgers president of baseball operations by obtaining Hamels.
Then again, there are other pitchers available through free agency and trades at a lesser cost. And all talk is premature until Lester picks his next employer, a decision that could shape the remainder of these meetings.