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Cubs meet with Lester, but Red Sox making a charge

The Cubs had their long-awaited meeting with free-agent pitcher Jon Lester on Tuesday, but the coveted left-hander was barely on his way out of town when reports began surfacing that Chicago wasn’t the top spot on his wish list.

At least six teams are heavily interested in Lester, 30, who went a combined 16-11 with a 2.46 ERA for the Red Sox and Oakland Athletics last season.

Cubs fans will find the most crushing news coming out of Boston, Lester’s former digs, where he is coveted by manager John Farrell. Long-time baseball writer Peter Gammons, who knows Lester and Cubs president Theo Epstein well, delivered the news during a segment on Boston radio station WEEI.

“Obviously, the Cubs are going to make every play,” Gammons said. “I get the feeling the Cubs think he’s going to go back to Boston.”

On Wednesday, there were multiple reports that the Red Sox are being very aggressive in their pursuit of their former ace. The Red Sox are believed to have put together at least a five-year deal.

It’s no secret Gammons is tight with Epstein and Lester, so his words carry extra weight. Adding to the Cubs’ anxiety is the idea of two other National League teams reportedly stepping up their interest. The rival St. Louis Cardinals are said to be interested in joining the sweepstakes. And the Atlanta Braves are also taking a hard look at Lester, who makes his offseason home in the Atlanta area.

This is Lester’s first run through free agency. A lefty with a 116-67 career record and 3.58 ERA can afford to take his time.

“I think it’s very smart for Lester and his agents to hold for another week,” Gammons said. “I think there is a feeling it is going to go past Thanksgiving, maybe into the first week into December and the hope is that the Yankees look at that starting rotation and they think — I mean how do they know [Masahiro] Tanaka, [Michael] Pineda and [Ivan] Nova are going to be healthy next year and they start thinking about, ‘OK, we have great bullpen, but …’

“That is Red Sox ownership’s worst nightmare — the Yankees and Theo Epstein negotiating against them. But, after spring training when ACES told them [they would see what the market bears], they are finding out the market is going to bear more than they ever imagined.”