Is there anything better than destroying narratives? Well, maybe waking up to find this season’s prized free agent pitcher sitting under your team’s tree. After a late night that included college basketball, the Sons of Anarchy finale, and scouring the internet for rumors, the news of Lester’s decision was more than enough to wake me this morning.
Early Wednesday morning, Jon Lester accepted the Cubs’ offer of six years, $155 million (with a vesting year that would push it to seven) which puts him behind only Clayton Kershaw in terms of average annual salary among pitchers.
In doing so, he spurned the San Francisco Giants, who had offered a bigger guarantee of seven years and $168 million, not to mention the recent history of picking up a World Series title every other year. Lester also said no to the Braves, a team whose new ballpark will be only minutes from the pitcher’s offseason home.
The Dodgers were reportedly right there with the Cubs in terms of money, but certainly boast a major league roster that’s ready to win now. And the Red Sox, despite low-balling Lester with an extension offer last season before trading him away and low-balling him once again in the free agency process, still held a great deal of sentiment.
They didn’t have the most to offer in terms of money, history, or emotional ties, but the Cubs still came out on top for the ace lefty. How? I’m sure we’ll find out more in a press conference that will exceed Joe Maddon’s in terms of whipping Cubs fans into a frenzy, but let’s speculate a little anyway.
For a guy who will be in his late 30’s at the conclusion of a contract, guaranteed time and money is a very big deal. But Jon Lester was willing to leave those sure bets on the table to be reunited with the front office that drafted and groomed him into a stud, World-Series-winning starting pitcher.
Lester could have been a guy, a dude even, on either coast. But in Chicago, he will be the man, the unequivocal leader of team that is now clearly poised to take a flying leap back into relevance. By so doing, Lester proved what I’ve said several times in the past, which is that he relishes the challenge of winning in Chicago.
And while that’s a tall order, it’s something that carries weight for a guy who wants to cement his legacy. The money would have been there for Lester no matter which team he chose, but he saw the intrinsic value of playing for the Cubs as greater than LA, San Francisco, or Boston.
In speaking about the Cubs, Lester said earlier, “The thing I liked about ’em is it wasn’t forced and wasn’t a sales pitch. It was like, ‘This is what we can do.’ I don’t want BS. I don’t want show. I don’t want glitz and glamour. I’m not 18 anymore. I want you to tell me what you can do for me and my family.”
He’s heavily involved in charitable work as well, particularly as a supporter of the pediatric cancer community. As a 22-year-old in the Red Sox organization, Lester was able to beat lymphoma and come back from the battle even stronger. If that sounds familiar to Cubs fans, it’s because Anthony Rizzo went through nearly the same trial.
So now the Cubs boast a team with real leadership both on the field an in the rotation, men who know what real adversity is and how to overcome it. If you can defeat cancer, winning the NL Central doesn’t seem such a daunting challenge.
But that’s exactly what this team must now set out to do. The hiring of Joe Maddon and the trade for Miguel Montero were mere warning shots lobbed across the bows of the other teams in the division. But this, well, this move signals to everyone that the Cubs do indeed mean business.
Now you’ve got a scenario in which the Cubs are moving forward with long-awaited ballpark renovations, have developed the best farm system in the majors, and are spending like a big-market team. It’s almost enough to get Theophiles and the most staunch anti-Ricketts advocates together, holding hands in a rousing rendition of Ring Around the Wrigley.
If this rebuilding process has been slow and painful (though it wasn’t actually that long in the grand scheme of things), Lester’s announcement was a sudden and immediate cure, a shot adrenaline to the heart of a moribund franchise. And the best part? The Cubs aren’t done yet.
In an offseason that saw the cross-town rival White Sox loading up early to make a run, the Cubs have officially joined the fray. Chicago looks for all intents and purposes to be the center of the baseball world and it’s looking like 2015 is going to be one hell of a summer.