Jon Lester: Missing piece to the Chicago Cubs’ puzzle?


There is a lot of buzz around the Chicago Cubs these days; all the up-and-coming prospects, renovations at Wrigley Field and the hiring of Joe Maddon. But as Madison Bumgarner showed this postseason and, more importantly, during the World Series, is that pitching wins. So with that said, do the Cubs have a formidable enough starting rotation to make their own run? Or is there a pitcher in free agency that would fit the organization like a glove?

Jon Lester hits free agency for the first time in his career this offseason. Drafted by the Boston Red Sox, and current Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein in 2002, the durable lefty has had an illustrious career thus far. 2006 proved to be an eventful season as he made his major league debut in June and was diagnosed with lymphoma, a form of cancer, in late August.

Following the successful cancer treatments, Lester was able to return to the Red Sox midway through the 2007 season. In the 2007 World Series, Lester won the series-clinching Game 4 for Boston, and became the third pitcher in World Series history to win a series-clinching game in his first postseason start. Then came 2008 in what would be his first full season and he didn’t disappoint, finishing the year with a record of 16-6, a 3.21 ERA over the span of 33 starts that netted him a total of 210 innings pitched. And a no-hitter to boot May 19, against the Kansas City Royals.

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Entering 2015, former Baltimore Orioles prospect Jake Arrieta is Chicago’s projected ace. No doubt Arrieta has the “stuff,” and although he had a tremendous season in 2014 for the North Siders, he has never pitched 200 innings in a single season and fell well short of that last season pitching 156 2/3 innings. Furthermore, he has also never had an ERA under 4.00 until his recent breakout season, which makes one wonder if he is a true ace or a flash-in-the-pan arm.

The current rotation also consists of a young Kyle Hendricks, who finished his rookie 2014 regular season with a 7-2 record, a 2.46 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 47 strikeouts in 80 1/3 innings pitched. Though he impressed, it was his first go-round in the majors, his K per 9 wasn’t great, and at only 24 years old and inexperienced, growing pains are to be expected. Then there’s Edwin Jackson, who since signing with the Cubs two years ago, has done nothing but disappoint. In two seasons with the club, Jackson owns a win-loss record of 14-33, with less-than-ideal outside numbers, as well, finishing last season with a mind numbing 6.33 ERA. The projected 2015 starting rotation rounds out with some combination of an inconsistent Felix Doubront, an unproven young arm in Jacob Turner and 33-year-old Tsuyoshi Wada.

“we’re going to make the playoffs next year.” -Joe Maddon

As I’ve illustrated, the missing piece could be a dominant, experienced, workhorse starting pitcher. Lester fits the mold, as he’s done nothing but succeed and eat up innings in his Major League career. Pitching 200 or more innings six out of the last seven seasons, missing a perfect string of 200-inning seasons by 8 1/3 innings one year, starting 30 games or more since 2008 with a career 3.58 ERA – the southpaw has been nothing short of consistent, at the very least.

The three-time American League All-Star led the Red Sox to another improbable World Series championship in 2013. Entering the final year of his contract in 2014, the Tacoma, Washington native was traded mid-season from a Boston team that was going nowhere and looking toward the future, to an Oakland Athletics team playing for their playoff lives. He finished the season with 16 wins and 11 loses, a career-best 2.46 ERA, and a ridiculous 220 strikeouts, 48 walks in 219 2/3 innings pitched.

The Cubs have the front office, the young talent and now the manager in place, with the introduction of Joe Maddon as the team’s skipper. Adding the 30-year-old, two-time World Series champ would help that prognostication dramatically as he has already helped break one curse, and could be what the Cubs need. Jon Lester brings everything the club’s starting rotation lacks – experience, an innings eater, a leader, a winner, a workhorse – an ace.