Chicago Cubs: This was expected from Jon Lester, believe it or not

(Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)
(Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images) /

When the Chicago Cubs signed Jon Lester six-year, $155 million deal? They expected regression. Lester is 35. It happens, and the front office expected it.

When the Chicago Cubs inked Jon Lester to a six-year deal worth $155 million-plus bonuses? It was a statement. The Cubs had arrived, and he was the big free agent that the front office had their eye on. His stats were less than remarkable, posting an 11-12 record with 3.44 ERA. And that was due to a 1.66 ERA he posted in July. But the Cubs made the playoffs as a Wild Card, defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates, and then the St. Louis Cardinals on their way to the NLCS.

In 2016, he was an All-Star (what Cub wasn’t?), second in Cy Young voting–Kyle Hendricks was third in that vote–and went 19-5 with a 2.44 ERA. They brought a World Series title to Chicago, and his legend was set in his first two seasons.

However, Lester is streaky. By month, and by year. His August has been horrendous, and he has one more start to make. Now? He’s 1-3 with an 8.51 ERA. His BAA is .346, and his BAbip is .413. Needless to say, not good. And then by years with the Cubs? It’s due to be his ‘down’ season. The 2016 and 2018 seasons were spectacular. The 2015 and 2017 campaigns? Not so much. 2019 is trending that way unless Lester can put it together.

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I don’t recall who said it, so don’t quote me on this. But I remember someone in the front office saying that they were ‘paying for the good years, and might see the regression at the end of the deal.’ If anyone has it, tweet me the link. I know I can make stuff up, but not like this. The thing is, he’s not that bad. Clearly, he isn’t pitching well. The Washington Nationals are hot, but Lester needed to pitch well, and he didn’t.

At 36 in 2017, Ben Zobrist was labeled by many fans as finished. He finished with a slash of .232/.318/.375 and an OPS of .693. Many called for him to retire, even though he was World Series MVP in 2016. He made a lot of people eat crow the following season, including yours truly. He hit over .300 for the first time in his career, slashing a .305/.378/.440 with a .817 OPS. If he can defy father time, Lester can do it.

Lester has a year left on his current deal at $20 million. He has a $25 million mutual option for a $10 million buyout. It vests with 200 IP in 2020 or 400 IP between 2019-20. Lester will be close to that, barring injury. While 2020 is a ‘good’ year, I’m figuring Lester will vest with his deal for 2021 (via Spotrac).

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No matter what, Lester has earned his contract. He’s 71-40 with a 3.51 ERA in his Chicago Cubs career. His ERA+ is his best, wherever he’s pitched, at 119. He’s got 867 strikeouts with a SO/9 ratio of 8.6. He’ll give everything he’s got and then some. Maybe take the time to respect him before you disrespect him. He’s beaten cancer. He’s had a great MLB career.