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Lester, Sox hit 'pause button' on extension talks

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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Red Sox and Jon Lester, who is scheduled to make his fourth consecutive Opening Day start on Monday and can become a free agent after the season, have "hit the pause button" on a contract extension, general manager Ben Cherington said Saturday morning.

Cherington didn't want to rule anything out, but he said the two sides may wait until the end of the year before resuming talks with agents Sam and Seth Levinson, allowing Lester and the team to focus on the season.

"We've had a lot of good dialogue, sharing information," Cherington said. "Jon and Seth have made good arguments for their position. We understand their position. We feel like we have good arguments for our position.

"Our desire remains to keep him here past 2014. We weren't able to find something that worked for everyone during this Spring Training. So in the interest of allowing him to get ready for Monday, let the team get ready for Monday, we'll kind of hit the pause button and hope that we can pick up the conversation again at some point."

Lester is agreeable to the decision.

"We felt like if we continued it would be a distraction," Lester said. "For right now, it's probably the best decision for both sides.

"I don't know if 'disappointing' is the right word. I think any time you go into a negotiation like this, you have to prepare yourself for something not happening.

"It's been -- I don't want to say pleasant because I don't think any time you have a negotiation process it's pleasant -- but amicable is a good word."

The Levinson brothers represent Dustin Pedroia, and they worked out an eight-year, $110 million extension for the second baseman in July after talks in Spring Training. At that time, Pedroia was more than two years away from free agency.

"Pedey's deal was a little bit different," Lester said. "I'm going into free agency. This is a little bit different circumstance. We're making sure that we cross our t's and dot our i's, and they're doing the same thing."

Lester has been vocal in his desire to stay with the Sox, the team that drafted him out of Bellarmine High School in Tacoma, Wash., in the second round of the 2002 First-Year Player Draft.

"This hasn't changed anything," Lester said. "This hasn't been a war of words and I'm sitting here pounding my fist and they're screaming at us. This has been, I feel, very positive.

"I feel both sides have been very positive. The timeframe right now, we just couldn't get the deal done. If it was the red zone, we'd still be talking. That would be ideal.

"I'll go out there and make sure I don't let my teammates down, I don't let the front office down. I take responsibility for that. Every year is the same mindset for me: I'm going to go out there and bust my butt for this organization."

Lester, who turned 30 in January, is scheduled to start on Opening Day for the Red Sox in Baltimore against the Orioles. This will be Lester's fourth consecutive Opening Day start, the fifth-longest streak in team history, trailing only Pedro Martinez (1998-2004) and Roger Clemens (1988-94) with seven each, Dennis Eckersley (five, 1979-83), and Cy Young (five, 1904-08). Lester is 100-56 with a 3.76 ERA in eight seasons. He is 6-4 with a 2.11 ERA in 13 postseason appearances. In three appearances this spring, he went 1-1 with a 0.71 ERA, giving up one earned run over 12 2/3 innings with three walks and 14 strikeouts.

"Jon has put himself in a good position," Cherington said. "He's a very good starting pitcher. He's been consistent and durable. He's now a season away from free agency. So he's put himself in a good position. We understand that and respect that. Again, our desire remains to keep him here, and we'll continue to have an open mind on ways to do that. But we just couldn't get to anything during this Spring Training."

Maureen Mullen is a contributor to

Boston Red Sox, Jon Lester