The most compelling storyline thus far this winter is the free agency of Jon Lester, with as many as five teams in hot pursuit. Where will he land? To help figure it out, MLB.com asked its reporters who cover the teams in question -- the Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, Red Sox, and yes, the Yankees -- to give their best assessment, complete with a "Lester Likelihood" score on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being "he's coming here."
Theo Epstein knows Lester. They grew up together in Boston and won a World Series there. And the Cubs' president of baseball operations has done everything he can to convince the lefty to come to Wrigley Field and be part of something special.
The Cubs expect to compete in 2015, but many of their young players are still a year away. Lester would definitely be the ace of the Cubs' staff. The Cubs, who were aggressive in their pursuit of right-hander Masahiro Tanaka last year and catcher Russell Martin this offseason, have the payroll flexibility to sign Lester. Will he? He may not want to leave the American League and he may not want to wait for the Cubs' kids to grow up.
LESTER LIKELIHOOD: 7
-- Carrie Muskat, Cubs beat reporter
If Lester wants the biggest contract he can get, don't bet against the Dodgers. That's how they won the bidding for right-hander Zack Greinke in the winter of 2012, or at least that's what Greinke said. With billionaire owners and a windfall television deal, the Dodgers can simply outbid any team when they want to.
If Lester wants to be part of a Dream Team rotation, he figures to be no better than the third starter, behind Clayton Kershaw and Greinke and ahead of Hyun-Jin Ryu and Dan Haren.
The Dodgers, with a World Series drought since 1988, can't match the Giants or Red Sox if winning another Fall Classic is at the top of Lester's selection criteria. And if he's inspired to end a World Series drought, the Dodgers can't compete with the Cubs on that one. The Dodgers can't match the Red Sox if Lester, a career-long AL pitcher, doesn't want the challenge of coming to the National League.
LESTER LIKELIHOOD: 7.5
-- Ken Gurnick, Dodgers beat reporter
Industry insiders believe that the Giants have little or no chance to sign Lester, despite the sincerity of the bid extended by the reigning World Series champions. The Giants probably will have to overextend themselves to land him -- that is, offer a seventh year that trumps the security pledged by his other suitors, or sweeten the pot to such a degree that the average annual value reaches a figure that Lester absolutely cannot refuse. Maybe that's $25 million; maybe it's a percentage of revenues from sales of garlic fries and Cha-Cha Bowls at AT&T Park (if you've been paying attention this offseason, Panda hats aren't worth much anymore).
With the deals received by Barry Zito in the 2007 offseason and by Barry Bonds in 1993, the Giants proved that they can blow away the opposition when they wish. Lest you think that Bonds' six-year, $43.75 million contract is ancient history, bear in mind that Larry Baer, then the team's vice president, is now the boss. He's fully capable of ordering another big splash by the bay.
LESTER LIKELIHOOD: 3
-- Chris Haft, Giants beat reporter
The Red Sox would love a reunion with Lester, but they are still in the midst of seeing if he will remain in their price range. According to reports, the Sox made an offer to Lester in the neighborhood of $130 million over six years. The Cubs supposedly went a little bit higher, and the deep-pocketed Dodgers have also joined the fray.
Boston was the first team to negotiate with Lester this winter. Team owner John Henry made it clear that he'd love for the lefty to return and on Friday he made a personal appeal to Lester in Atlanta. But the Red Sox took a calculated risk last Spring Training while Lester was still with their team, making a four-year, $70 million offer that didn't come close to what he was looking for. And once general manager Ben Cherington traded Lester on July 31, he took the risk of having to compete with other teams for his services this winter.
LESTER LIKELIHOOD: 6
-- Ian Browne, Red Sox beat reporter
The Yankees have kept tabs on the Lester sweepstakes as a matter of due diligence, but there have been no concrete links between the Bombers and the free agent ace in reported negotiations. The Yanks have repeatedly said that they made their major expenditures last winter, and though Lester -- an AL East-produced, postseason-tested hurler who'd fit well in Yankee Stadium -- would upgrade a rotation with several question marks, GM Brian Cashman has kept his distance.
After extending long-term deals to both CC Sabathia (2008-09 offseason) and Tanaka (2013-14), the Yankees appear to be reluctant to saddle their payroll with yet another nine-figure pitching commitment, instead preferring to wait on Brandon McCarthy and perhaps Hiroki Kuroda. Owner Hal Steinbrenner has been convinced to authorize last-minute pushes for elite talent in the past, so that's always something to keep an eye out for.
LESTER LIKELIHOOD: 4
-- Bryan Hoch, Yankees beat reporter