Many had assumed the Chicago Cubs would go all-out for Jon Lester. Never did I think it would come down to Cubs president Theo Epstein being covered in piss, however.
“I was ready to soak myself in deer urine, if necessary,” Epstein said at yesterday’s presser.
Call it naive, but I always had this idea that the long-standing relationship between Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and Lester’s days in Boston would help grease the skids towards a reunited front in Chicago.
All along, most expected the Cubs’ main competition for Lester would be the feel-good story returning “home” to Boston. Yet, it seems the Cubs also had to sweat out a little more. The San Francisco Giants came calling and gave Lester the tempting option of joining a winning organization with an aggressive financial proposal as well.
In the end, it ultimately came down to family for Lester. Luckily, he considers the Cubs brass as part of his baseball family. Boston also helped a little by burning down their warm fuzziness by lowballing, and eventually trading, Lester this past summer.
Those events helped lead Lester back to not only a comfortable situation with the Cubs front office duo, but also the ultimate challenge for his decorated career.
It struck me as funny that Epstein and Hoyer felt the need to send Lester a 15-minute video pitch on the first day of free agency. Yet, they were organized and ready to pounce regardless of their past history with the pitcher. The Cubs had long targeted Lester as the guy who could push their plan into another gear.
The Cubs knew where Lester’s heart lay, and they leveraged that by selling a family situation at Wrigley, a new family room and day games included. Tom Ricketts even got in on the pitch by selling himself as being a passionate fan an avid hunting man himself.
“He’s not your average owner, he’s a fan,” Lester said. “He grew up a Cubs fan, met his wife in the bleachers. I thought that was really unique and really cool aspect.”
Ricketts also sent Lester a customized Cubs hunting hat to boot, but, ultimately, what really sold Lester was how the Cubs pitched the idea that he would help them win and win big.
According to Carrie Muskat, the final element involved a presentation by the baseball operations department on what Epstein and Hoyer have been doing as far as rebuilding the Cubs.
“The last section was titled, ‘Baseball operations: How the Cubs are going to win a World Series with Jon Lester in 2015 and Beyond,'” Epstein said.
“As soon as we left the meeting,” Lester told Patrick Mooney, “we had a good feeling about what they were bringing to the table as far as the future of this organization.
What the Cubs really introduced Monday was a new era of winning. They had previously sold us on organizational building, and now it appears they have moved into the next phase. Before the tiramisu at Spiaggia could even be bused, they would add former Cardinals closer Jason Motte.
I’d previously heard from one agent prior to the winter meetings that the presence of Joe Maddon could sweeten a deal for any free agent. I’m not sure Lester doesn’t add quite a bit of this element as well.
“When you make a statement like bringing in a Joe Maddon, that just adds to the decision-making,” Lester told Paul Sullivan. “Makes it that much more interesting.”
Lester represents much more to this organization than just a free-agent acquisition, more even than the re-signing of Jeff Samardzija would have. Lester is a guy who can walk into the Cubs clubhouse and command instant respect with his World Series rings and big-game record and mentality.
The guy will be a face for the organization going forward, and he hopes to be the face of a team that makes some history.
“The fact that we haven’t won in so long helps define who we are,” Epstein said. “It adds meaning and resonance to what we’re trying to accomplish here. And I think it attracts players who aren’t afraid of that challenge and want to be here for the right reasons. And it definitely attracted Jon Lester.”
Lester said Monday that he doesn’t believe in curses. Yet, as a hunter he may just have to take down a goat one day. I think he is ready for it.
“Absolutely,” he said. “We’ll do what we need to do. If we need to bring some goats around, we’ll do that.”
Happy hunting, Jon, don’t forget your hat.