The Chicago Cubs declined Lester’s $25 million option, deciding to buy out the 36-year-old lefty for $10 million. Then he bought fans a beer.
We knew it was time for the Chicago Cubs. Age, the changes in the game like spin rates and pitch counts, and advanced metrics like FIP- and ERA- all told us what we were seeing. A dominant youngster in his prime became the wily veteran, then the struggling former ace.
After the disappointing 2019 season, even Big Jon admitted it was slipping. “The season sucked personally for me, but it also sucked for the team, and that’s what matters most.” Classic Jon Lester.
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Some see only these last two years, with the loss of velocity on the fastball and the ERA increase. To them, it seems an eternity ago when Lester signed with Cubs in 2015. It isn’t, though, and a couple of facts that bear repeating is that Jon Lester is the best free-agent signing by any Cubs front office ever and a key reason for the best run of Cubs baseball in nearly a century.
Lester’s competitiveness is off the charts; his approach to his craft is professionalism defined; his commitment to the Cubs, the city, and the fans are total.
The Red Sox got the most of Jon Lester. Nine seasons, 242 games, 1519 1/3 innings pitched, and a 110-63 record. He was a Cy Young candidate twice for Boston in 2010 and 2014 and a three-time All-star.
Jon’s time in Oakland, where he was traded along with Jonny Gomes for Yoenis Cespedes, was outstanding, a 2.32 ERA and 1.071 WHIP, until the postseason when the Royals stole seven bases and the eighth inning got out of hand.
Boston may have gotten the most of Jon Lester, but the Cubs got his best years. Jon’s best career season was 2016, with a 2.44 ERA, a 1.016 WHIP, a 19-5 record, and over two hundred innings pitched. That postseason, Lester shut out the Giants in the NLDS, earned co-MVP honors in the NLCS, and won an elimination World Series Game 5. After allowing two runs on a wild pitch in Game 7, he shut down the Indians the next 2 2/3 innings.
Lester nearly reprised his 2016 season in 2018, going 18-6 with a 3.32 ERA. But by then, it was catching up to 6’4″ lefty. “It” was age maybe, or a declining fastball definitely, or maybe the cutter that was losing its potency. He posted a 1.310 WHIP in 2018, and it would get worse from there.
Overall he pitched 171 games for the Cubs, compiling a 77-44 record, the same .636 winning percentage he had in Boston, posting a 3.64 ERA (again the same ERA he posted with Boston) and a 1.248 WHIP.
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On top of all of Jon’s career accomplishments, he did all of that after battling cancer. Whatever the future holds for him, whether he returns in some other role or moves on, Jon Lester glaring in at hitters, pumping his fist after a key strikeout, his imposing presence on the mound, and willingness to call himself out when he didn’t pitch to his standards, and his leadership on and off the field makes him one of the most unforgettable Cubs in team history.