ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Just days ago in Toronto, the question surrounding Jon Lester seemed to be: Where will he be pitching next season?
But after the team's fourth straight loss dropped the Sox further out of contention in the American League, Lester has begun thinking about another question: Where will he pitch next week?
With the trade deadline approaching and the Sox unlikely to insert themselves back into the playoff chase, the possibility exists -- however slight -- that the Sox would listen to offers on Lester, who can, of course, become a free agent after the season.
And if they do, Lester would understand, and he's braced for the chance it could happen.
"I don't think anything, especially in Boston, can surprise you," he said after the Sox dropped a 6-4 decision to the Tampa Bay Rays despite six strong innings from Lester. "We all understand where we're at, we understand it's a business. And (general manager Ben Cherington) and ownership have to do what's right for this organization and if that means whoever it may be is traded for prospects or other guys or whatever, that's just part of the business. We all understand it.''
Lester ended up dueling with Tampa's David Price on Friday. Ironically, the surging Rays, who have won eight in a row, may now hold onto Price rather than deal him. Price is under control through 2015.
Should Price stay, that might only result in Lester's value surging as the best available starting pitcher on the market.
Technically, Lester, who has spent his entire career with the Red Sox, has already been "traded'' once. He was to be included in a package for Alex Rodriguez after the 2003 season, but negotiations to restructure Rodriguez's remaining salary scuttled that deal.
"I've been through it a couple times at a younger age,'' said Lester of the specter of a trade. "If that's where they want to go with it, that's fine. No hard feelings. Hopefully, come November I'll be right here and won't have to worry about it.''
Despite little movement on a contract extension with the Red Sox -- resulting in the talks being officially tabled earlier this week until after the season -- Lester has continually made it clear that he prefers to be with the Sox -- now and in the future.
That includes a scenario whereby the Sox could deal him away by Thursday afternoon's deadline, and still re-sign him in the off-season.
"Yeah, why not?" he said. "I mean, (Boston) is what I know, this is what I love. Like I've said plenty of times, this is where I want to be. And if they trade me I completely understand. No hard feelings. I know what they have to do for their organization and if that involves me, so be it. If it doesn't I'll keep running out there every five days and pitching.''
Lester came into Friday's game having allowed just one earned run in his previous 31 innings and pitched another gem, limiting the Rays to two runs on six hits.
But a long fifth inning that required 35 pitches came back to limit his night. After six, he was at 110 pitches and the Sox went to their bullpen.
Ordinarily, that wouldn't be a bad idea. But Junichi Tazawa was uncharacteristically wild, walking two and giving up two hits and four runs as the game got away from the Sox in the seventh.