If he has his way, Jon Lester will return to the Chicago Cubs next season.
This wasn’t how it was supposed to end. Jon Lester, the undisputed leader of the Cubs during their recent Golden Age, the man who took the Lovable Losers and rewrote the script surrounding the franchise. Walking off the Wrigley Field mound for the last time – not to the applause of 40,000 raucous fans – but to pumped in crowd noise while staring at a sea of empty green seats.
But this might not be the end after all. As expected, the Cubs paid Lester a $10 million buyout rather than pick up his $25 million option for 2021 – making the southpaw a free agent for the first time in more than half a decade.
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“I know there is some doubt as far as the money that’s out there but I would like to think we can definitely get this thing done,” Lester said Friday. “I think it’s going to be a long offseason for everybody.”
The five-time All-Star stressed that he hopes something gets done sooner rather than later, but given the uncertainty that will rule the coming weeks and months, it’s anybody’s guess when – or even if – the Cubs hammer out a deal with Lester.
To say this season was a disappointment for him is an understatement. He put up career-highs in both ERA (5.16) and FIP (5.14) and a career-low with just 6.2 punchouts per nine. All told, his performance was a lot of Jekyll and Hyde.
In his three losses, Lester was shelled for 20 runs on 21 hits in just 10 2/3 innings of work. Meanwhile, in his three wins, he worked to a 0.53 ERA. But no matter what, he just didn’t finish hitters via the punchout as he did in years past. That’s just not the guy he is anymore – and that’s alright.
Bringing Lester back on an incentive-laden deal similar to what the Cardinals offered longtime rotation staple Adam Wainwright last winter makes a ton of sense. You pencil him in near the bottom of the rotation, expect comparable results and go from there.
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This will (hopefully) allow him to notch his 200th career victory next season and, at the end of the year, he’ll tip his cap to the Wrigley faithful, thank them for all the memories and receive one last standing ovation for all he’s done for the franchise over the years.