Cubs to pursue Max Scherzer and Jon Lester this winter?


Landing one of the game’s top three free agent pitchers – Jon Lester, Max Scherzer and James Shields – this winter would be a major step forward for the Chicago Cubs.

Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe recently reported that president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer could take it one step further, looking to sign both Lester and Scherzer this offseason to shore up a pitching staff in need of a strong veteran presence.

"Whether it’s this offseason or next, the Cubs are going to start making a splash. There’s already talk within the industry of the Cubs possibly going after Max Scherzer and Jon Lester. Even if they have to wait a year for their young hitters to develop, having those guys in the fold will be a huge step."

Those young hitters – including Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Arismendy Alcantara at the big league level, and Kris Bryant, Albert Almora and Addison Russell in the minor leagues – appear to be the key for the franchise moving forward. The team has been oft-linked to the Philadelphia Phillies’ Cole Hamels as a trade target, although his contract and the steep asking price could dissuade the Cubs from making a run at him – despite the fact they put in a waiver claim on the left-hander late in the season.

Lester, 31, is by far the most attractive option for the Cubs for several reasons. He’s dependable (he’s pitched at least 200 innings in six of the last seven seasons, with the outlier being a 191 2/3 inning campaign back in 2011, when he was named an AL All-Star regardless). He’s a proven winner (he has a 116-67 career record to go along with a 2.57 career postseason ERA). And perhaps most importantly, he is not tied to draft pick compensation – which makes him much more attractive to a team like the Cubs that depends so heavily on the draft each year.

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Scherzer, the 2013 American League Cy Young Award winner, is by no measure a slouch, but will likely be tied to compensation, as Detroit is expected to offer the right-hander a qualifying offer, which he will decline. Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski seemed accepting that his work horse would likely be donning a new jersey come 2015 in a recent interview with

"“Well, we had thorough conversations before the season, and I don’t know that it’s all dictated by us at this point,” said Dombrowski. “I think we made ourselves pretty well known at the time where we stood. … I think we probably made more of an effort to sign Max earlier in the year. So I don’t think your odds improve [from] what they were earlier. Why would they improve if we have one-on-one ability to speak with you, compared to having 29 other clubs speak with you? Only time will tell.”"

After his purely dominant 2013 season, in which he lost just three times en route to a 21-3 mark and 2.90 ERA, Scherzer was arguably just as good this season, going 18-5 with a 3.15 earned run average. He pitched more innings (220 1/3 to 214 1/3) and struck out more batters (252 to 240) – but was also hit more regularly by opposing hitters, surrounding 44 more base hits.

Both of these arms are in store for major paydays this offseason, but with the money available in Chicago, pursuing both seems – at the very least – in the realm of possibility. The Cubs surely will not be the only interested party, but landing just one – let alone both – of these perennial aces would be a game-changer moving forward.