Jed Hoyer says the Chicago Cubs are keeping in touch with Jon Lester’s camp.
We’re still about two months from Cubs pitchers and catchers reporting to camp in Arizona (assuming a full 162-game schedule in 2021). At this point, for the first time since 2014, Jon Lester will not be among those in attendance.
The veteran left-hander just wrapped up his deal with Chicago, doing so in rather unceremonious fashion, limping to a career-worst 5.14 FIP and 86 ERA+ in 61 innings of work. Rather than pay him $25 million, the Cubs opted to go the route of a $10 million buyout instead. So far this offseason, it’s been fairly quiet on the rumor front in regards to Lester, though, with just the San Francisco Giants showing interest.
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It was an inconsistent showing for the southpaw in 2020. In his first three starts, he allowed just two runs across 17 innings – good for a 1.06 ERA. But over his final nine outings, opponents scored five or more runs five times, hardly a promising sign for a guy heading into free agency in his mid-30s.
But as new Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer noted this week, how teams look at starters has drastically evolved since the team signed Lester six years ago. Bullpens are more critical than ever – and if Lester (or any other starter for that matter) can get through the order twice, that’s really all teams are looking for.
"“The way that people look at what a starting pitcher is supposed to do has changed,” Hoyer said. “We see in the playoffs over and over that the third time through the batting order, people are much warier of. As bullpens have gotten better and better, managers are prone to go to the fresh reliever to face that batter than go with the starter.”"
By and large, Lester was very effective his first time through the batting order this year. But the second time around, he was hit hard (.313/.370/.586) – before leveling off in the rare instance he worked through an order a third time. If the Cubs think they can get him to be more efficient and effective, he could make sense as a back-of-the-rotation presence who brings invaluable postseason pedigree to the table.
Hoyer said the Cubs are keeping in touch with Lester’s camp – although nothing has materialized in terms of discussions regarding a new deal. Right now, the front office is in the midst of a high wire balancing act between rebuilding and remaining competitive in what is anticipated to be a very weak National League Central.
I think I can speak for all Cubs fans when I say – if the terms make sense, I’d love to see Lester back in 2021 with a chance to notch career win number 200 at Wrigley Field.