4:46pm: The Cardinals are also interested in Lester, Jim Bowden of ESPN.com reports on Twitter.
9:14am: The Braves have a meeting with left-hander Jon Lester this week, reports ESPN’s Buster Olney (via Twitter). Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported last week that Atlanta had briefly touched base with Lester’s representatives at ACES and speculated that more serious interest could materialize if they moved some payroll. Rosenthal tweets that the meeting will take place on Thursday.
The Braves dealt Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden to the Cardinals yesterday in a move that looked to be signaling a brief rebuild. However, one could also look at that move and see more than $11MM in savings on next year’s payroll plus the addition of an arm (Shelby Miller) that can be a significant boost to their rotation in 2015. Despite the cost savings on Walden and Heyward, however, Lester would seem too expensive a target. Atlanta already has about $70MM committed to just seven roster spots, plus perhaps as much as $16MM in arbitration raises. Lester figures to command an annual salary well north of $20MM, possibly around $25MM, making him a financial stretch. Atlanta had a record payroll of $112MM in 2014.
However, it’s possible that the Braves could free up more payroll space that would make a Lester addition more feasible. Atlanta has long been exploring ways to free itself of at least part of the remaining $46.5MM owed to B.J. Upton, and a trade of Justin Upton, who earns $14.5MM next year, hasn’t been entirely ruled out. Atlanta would probably also love to get out from underneath the remaining $23.5MM on Chris Johnson’s contract, although that figures to be challenging to move as well.
While Lester seems like a stretch in terms of payroll, the Braves have a need for starting pitching. Currently, Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, Mike Minor and Miller are penciled into the rotation, and it’s unknown what the team can expect from Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen as the duo return from their second Tommy John operations. David Hale presents an option but seems better suited for a swingman role similar to the one he filled in 2014.