Chicago Cubs: Has Jon Lester thrown his last pitch on the North Side?
If the 2020 Major League Baseball season is erased by COVID-19, it’s very possible we’ve seen Jon Lester throw his last pitch in a Chicago Cubs uniform.
As things stand at this very moment, Jon Lester represents the best free agent signing in Chicago Cubs history. Not only that, but he’s in the conversation as one of the best free agent signings in Chicago sports history.
He’s toed the rubber 159 times in the regular season and another dozen times in the postseason for the club. His gutsy relief performance in Game 7 of the 2016 Fall Classic is etched into Cubs lore, as is his lasting legacy as the ace of the Cubs during the most impressive stretch in the modern era.
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Last season, Lester struggled – and more than a few folks have written him off as a high performer in the Cubs rotation this year. He made some adjustments late in the year, though, and has no intentions of riding quietly into the sunset on the heels of a disappointing campaign.
"“Looking back on it,” Lester told NBC Sports Chicago, “I don’t want to say it was an easy fix — nothing’s ever an easy fix — but I just think sometimes when you get into the position I’m at in my career, you start kinda buying into having to change. And I don’t think I had to change.”"
In all actuality, he didn’t perform as poorly as some of the numbers might indicate. He was essentially the same pitcher he was in 2018, when he worked to a 4.39 FIP, won 18 games and eclipsed the 180-inning plateau for the eleventh consecutive season.
But that’s not what the baseball card stats told us. He allowed 205 hits, the most in the league, and put up a 4.46 ERA, his highest since 2012, when he was a member of the Boston Red Sox. He ground his way through more than a handful of starts and the roughly 3,000 innings on his left arm really seemed like they were starting to add up.
This season marks the final year of his deal, a six-year, $155 million contract that marked a turning of the tide in Chicago Cubs history. Heading into 2021, Theo Epstein has a decision – one that looks likely to be a foregone conclusion – pay a 37-year-old Lester $25 million salary or buy him out for $10 million.
A lost 2020 season could spell the end of Lester’s tenure on the North Side and may even be the final straw in his tenuous shot at a spot in the Hall of Fame. Regardless of whether or not Lester ever throws another pitch as a member of the Chicago Cubs, one thing is for sure: he’s a legend in the Windy City – and without him, we’re still waiting for ‘next year’.