Cubs officially sign LHP Jon Lester to a six-year contract
(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
The biggest move of baseball’s offseason became official Monday when the Cubs and pitcher Jon Lester agreed to terms on a six-year contract that includes a vesting option for the 2021 season.
Lester, 30, is a three-time All-Star and a two-time World Series champion during his nine seasons with the Boston Red Sox (2006-14) and Oakland Athletics (2014). He has a pair of top five Cy Young Award finishes (2010 and 2014, both fourth), four top 10 finishes for the ERA title and six top 10 finishes in wins. The left-hander has made more than 30 starts in each of the last seven seasons, eclipsed 200 innings in six of the past seven and has three seasons with more than 200 strikeouts. His .634 career winning percentage (116-67) ranks fifth among all active pitchers.
The Cubs beat out teams like Boston, the Dodgers and San Francisco, who were all reported to have offered the southpaw significant deals. In the end though, the steps the Cubs had taken to produce sustained success swayed the starter.
“I believe in the plan and the thing that’s in place right now for the future of the Cubs,” Lester said. “Obviously leaving a place that you’ve already won and the comfort of that it’s difficult, but also you can relish in the process of enjoying the chance of winning a World Series for a franchise that never has just adds that little extra for me.”
Overall, Lester is 116-67 with a 3.58 ERA (635 ER/1,596.0 IP) in 253 major league appearances, all but one as a starting pitcher. Among big league left-handed pitchers active at the end of the 2014 campaign, he ranks best with an average of only 0.82 home runs per nine innings, second with 8.22 strikeouts per nine innings, third in ERA, fourth in wins and WHIP (1.28), and fifth with 1,457 strikeouts and 156 quality starts. He threw the 18th no-hitter in Red Sox history on May 19, 2008, a 7-0 victory against the Kansas City Royals at Fenway Park.
A World Champion with the Red Sox in 2007 and 2013, Lester is 6-4 with a 2.57 ERA in 14 postseason appearances, 12 as a starter. He has won all three of his World Series starts, posting a 0.43 ERA, and was the winning pitcher in the clinching Game 4 in 2007 in Colorado.
Lester turned in one of the best seasons of his career in 2014 when he went 16-11 with a 2.46 ERA in 32 starts with the Red Sox and Athletics. He earned an All-Star nod and recorded his lowest single-season ERA, which ranked fourth in the American League. He struck out 220 batters and walked only 48, good for a 4.6 strikeout-to-walk ratio that ranked seventh in the league. Lester was 10-7 with a 2.52 ERA in 21 starts for the Red Sox before being traded to Oakland on July 31, where he went 6-4 with an even better 2.35 ERA in 11 starts.
Eptsein and current Cubs General Manager Jed Hoyer were members of Boston’s front office for the majority of Lester’s tenure, with Epstein serving as general manager from 2003-11. Along with Lester’s success on the field, Epstein said he respects the pitcher’s drive and character, which were equally important attributes that led to the signing.
“He’s focused, competitive, hard working, intense and now fully mature. I think he’s got good self-awareness and understands the group concept,” said Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein. “And he’s at his best in the most important moments, I think because he’s so driven and focused and not swayed on outside variables like pressure.”
The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Lester was originally selected by the Red Sox in the second round of the 2002 Draft (57th overall) out of high school and was in the big leagues just four years later at the age of 22. He made his debut on June 10, 2006, and made 15 starts before being diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma in late-August. Lester was declared cancer-free in December of that year and returned to the big leagues on July 23, 2007, going a perfect 4-0 with a 4.57 ERA in 12 outings (11 starts) down the stretch to help the Red Sox to the playoffs and a World Series championship.
Lester began his run of seven straight seasons with more than 30 starts in 2008 and has posted 15 or more victories in six of those seasons, including a career-high 19 wins in 2010, his first of two-straight All-Star seasons. He struck out 225 batters in consecutive seasons in 2009 and 2010, his single-season career bests. In 2013, Lester went 4-1 with a 1.56 ERA in five postseason starts to lead the Red Sox to the 2013 World Series championship.