By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — Just in case it wasn’t already perfectly clear that the Red Sox have no desire to sign Jon Lester to the contract he deserves, principal owner John Henry just made it loud and clear.

In an email to the Boston Herald, Henry said, “Both sides have put further discussion off until after the season. It’s clear that both Jon and our organization would like to see Jon back next year if possible.”

And with that statement, you might as well accept the fact that Lester’s days in a Boston uniform are numbered. The only question is whether that number is in single digits or whether he’ll play out the string, pitching with excellence for a last place team. But make no mistake about it — the Red Sox aren’t willing to do what it takes to sign their ace.

You can argue the merits of that belief until you’re blue in the face, as there are pros and cons to letting the 30-year-old walk in free agency. On the positive side, there is the avoidance of risk that is inherent with a long-term, big-money deal. Yet of course, saying farewell to a face of the franchise who’s helped deliver two championships and continues to excel in the peak of his career is not exactly a slam dunk of a decision.

But regardless of where you fall in that spectrum, one thing has crystallized: The Red Sox must trade Jon Lester.

Just seven days separate us from the July 31 trade deadline, and with two wild card spots in play for both leagues, just about everyone feels like a contender. That means the market for a top-of-the-rotation left-hander with a proven track record in the postseason is as large as it could ever be, and if the Red Sox actually want to get something in return for losing their ace, now is the time to make a deal.

A quick look at the standings outside of the AL East, you’ll see four division races that remain heated, with the AL West, NL East, NL Central and NL West leaders currently holding on to the top spot by 2.5 games or fewer. Nine teams in the American League and seven in the National League likely consider themselves in the wild card race at this moment, and just about all of them would love to add Lester for the stretch run.

This season, Lester may be putting together the finest work of his career. His 2.50 ERA is fifth-best in the AL. His 1.117 WHIP ranks him ninth. He ranks sixth with 142 strikeouts. And all of this comes after Lester went 4-1 with a 1.56 ERA, 29 strikeouts and just eight walks in 34 2/3 innings last October on the game’s biggest stage.

All of that is to say that Lester is better right now than he’s ever been before, and he may be better than he’ll ever be.

Again, you could try to make the case that the Red Sox should do whatever it takes to sign Lester. Obviously, he’s grown up in front of our eyes while pitching for the Red Sox. He’s beaten cancer. He’s handled himself appropriately through all of the ups and downs over the past nine years. He’s been everything you could ever want out of a pitcher as he’s become a bona fide star in the league, and he’ll presumably continue to be that same steadying influence for the rest of his career. If you wanted to give Lester the years and dollars he wants, you might be right. You also wouldn’t be a member of the Red Sox front office.

Tom Werner began the campaign to soften the blow of losing Lester last week.

“Any sober baseball executive is aware of the increasing injury time that pitchers are spending on the DL,” Werner told The Boston Globe. “You don’t have to look [too] far, the Yankees have, what, four-fifths of their rotation on the DL? You have to take selective risks. Jon Lester has been consistently strong in his career and durable. But with any player over 30, you have to be cognizant of the risks.”

And the campaign continued with Henry’s comments to the Herald, particularly when he said that both sides want to see Lester continue his career with the Red Sox “if possible.”

It is possible, and it’s been possible since last winter. The Red Sox, for their reasons, aren’t willing to make it possible. So it’s time for Ben Cherington to work the phones and pilfer as many top prospects from an eager organization as he can before next Thursday’s trade deadline. (If the Red Sox do suddenly feel a change of heart and decide to give Lester a big-money deal, they could always line up with the rest of MLB to offer that contract in November.)

Yes, it would be an unceremonious end to a player who has given the Red Sox everything he possibly could, and yes, it’s not ideal. But the front office is making it crystal clear that their limits are nowhere near what Lester wants, and if they’re going to lose the player anyway, they might as well try nab some prospects to add to the farm.

Who knows — if they’re lucky, they may even be able to snag the next Jon Lester.

Read more from Michael Hurley by clicking here, or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.


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