When the Chicago Cubs went out and signed Jon Lester prior to the 2015 season, everything changed. The expectations immediately shifted and the lengthy rebuild met its unofficial end in one move.
Now, after jettisoning several of the final pieces of the core that played alongside Lester this summer, Chicago is again looking to make a statement in free agency. This time, though, it’s Carlos Correa in the team’s sights – a highly controversial, but admittedly talented infielder who, to this point, spent his entire career with the Houston Astros.
Correa’s involvement in the team’s 2017 sign-stealing scandal continues to haunt him to this day. Of course, the Astros won it all that year – one year after Lester and the Cubs erased 108 years of drought on that fateful rainy night in Cleveland. Now, Correa could be tasked with being the face of the next era on the North Side.
What the two bring to the table is decidedly different. With Lester, it was a hard-nosed veteran presence tasked with bringing that winning mentality to the clubhouse. It’s safe to say Correa doesn’t have the same reputation, although he’s won at every step along the way to this point in his career, playing in each of the last five ALCS – advancing to the World Series three times and bringing home one ring.
Despite the fact his achievements on the field will forever be marred by that 2017 scandal, Correa has shown he’s very capable of playing this game at an elite level since. He’s coming off one of the best seasons of his career, earning his third All-Star nod, a Platinum Glove Award and a fifth-place finish in AL MVP balloting.
Chicago Cubs: Carlos Correa could dramatically shorten the rebuild timeline
The Lester signing boldly declared the Cubs’ arrival to contention. Pulling off the surprise of the offseason and coming away with Correa would very much do the same, dispelling any notions of another lengthy rebuild in Wrigleyville, and giving newcomer Marcus Stroman an elite defender and some star power behind him defensively.
Adding Correa alone won’t be enough to turn the Cubs into legitimate contenders in 2022. There are too many holes left on this roster. But if you’ll remember, Lester was the first piece of the puzzle seven years ago. Then, the following winter, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer went out and added critical pieces such as Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist, John Lackey and Dexter Fowler.
Simply comparing Lester to Correa at face value isn’t a productive exercise. But understanding that bringing in a player of his caliber alongside Stroman would immediately make Chicago an attractive landing spot for free agents moving forward – and give the team a real chance to make some noise in the near future.