The Jon Lester sweepstakes are over. The 30-year old southpaw signed a six-year, $155 million deal with the Chicago Cubs earlier this morning.
In his 9-year big league career, Lester is 116-67 with a 3.58 ERA and has 1,457 strikeouts. He spent the bulk of his career with the Boston Red Sox where he was named to three AL All-Star Teams and won two World Series rings. In 2014, Lester went 16-11 with a 2.46 ERA. The Red Sox dealt Lester to the Oakland A’s at the trade deadline where he went 6-4 with the A’s and had a 7-4 lead in the eighth inning of the AL Wild Card game against the Kansas City Royals before the Royals embarked upon an improbable comeback.
Although Lester wanted to return to Boston, as time wore on it was clear that he would not be coming back because the Red Sox did not want him back. If the Red Sox wanted to lock up Lester they would have done so after winning the 2013 World Series. That didn’t happen. During this off-season, the priority has been offense as evidenced by the signings of both Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez. At best, the Red Sox were going through the motions. Meanwhile, Lester knows where he stands with Cubs President Theo Epstein. So I don’t blame him for going to Wrigley.
One cannot underestimate the significance of this move. To bring in a guy who has survived cancer and won two World Series rings will make this young team much, much better. Throw Joe Maddon into the mix and the sky is the limit. The guy I think Lester will have the most impact on is Jake Arrieta. After struggling with the Orioles, Arrieta found his groove and went 10-5 with a 2.53 ERA while fanning 167 batters in 156 2/3 innings. I think the presence of Lester could help turn Arrieta into one of MLB’s premier pitchers in 2015.
As for the Red Sox, they need pitching. Do they splurge on Max Scherzer? If they’re willing to pay Scherzer more than Lester then that’s going to cause a backlash. But I doubt even the Sox would be willing to fork over $200 million to Scherzer. Do they trade for Cole Hamels? Phillies GM Ruben Amaro would want something big in return and the Sox would have to give up either Yoenis Cespedes or Xander Bogaerts or possibly both. I wouldn’t pull that deal.
I think James Shields is a more viable option despite a lousy post-season effort with the Royals. If for some reason Jordan Zimmermann and the Nationals can’t work out a contract extension then that is somebody they should pursue. Or perhaps his Nationals teammate Doug Fister. The Red Sox need pitching and when Clay Buchholz is your most experienced starter then the Sox are going to need all the help they can get.