Why would Jon Lester choose the Cubs?
Jon Lester could have gone to teams with a recent history of success. Why did he choose a last-place team?
Jon Lester, after signing with the Cubs, had some thoughts to share. From Jeff Passan at Yahoo!:
“The thing I liked about ‘em is it wasn’t forced and wasn’t a sales pitch,” Lester said after his meeting with the Cubs. “It was like, ‘This is what we can do.’
This is what we can do, they said, with “We” being the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs sat down and presented poster boards and PowerPoint slides to Lester, and they convinced him that Chicago was where he wanted to be. The Giants had a seventh year. The Red Sox had sentimental value. The Dodgers had an intern manning the money cannon, and that fool knows how to spray it everywhere. Yet Lester chose the Cubs because “this” is what they can do.
Let’s look at “this.” How likely is Lester to help the next good Cubs team? What was that sales pitch? What were on those PowerPoint slides?
PowerPoint slide #1: the young hitters
The Cubs didn’t hit much last year. When it comes to teams with the most above-average hitters last season, the Cubs were in the bottom half of the 30-team list.
But they’re coming. Soon, possibly. Anthony Rizzo is something of a star now, or he will be soon. If Javier Baez’s strikeouts are too much of a problem, Addison Russell will come to the rescue. Kris Bryant might be one of the best prospects in baseball, and Jorge Soler might get MVP votes as soon as this year. If you weren’t convinced of their catching situation last week, they have Miguel Montero now. He might not be the hitter he was, but his defense and pitch-framing are beyond reproach.
They still have holes, mind you. I’m not sure if Chris Coghlan really expects to be the leadoff hitter next year. But when the Cubs started their pitch to Lester, their first words were probably “Look at how rad this lineup is going to be.”
PowerPoint slide #2: The steady rotation
Well, it’s steady now. Lester makes any rotation better, and he joins a rotation with Jason Hammel, Travis Wood, and Jake Arrieta. That’s already a rotation worth watching, and it’s a rotation that can be good enough to overcome whatever offensive potholes there might be in the early stages of the Cubs renaissance.
I’m really hoping this is the year that I stop getting Jason Hammel and Jake Arrieta confused, too. One of them needs to throw left-handed and/or change his first name to “Scooby” or something.
PowerPoint slide #3: The ability to spend
It’s not Lester and done. This is just the beginning, the start of what happens when a rich team has a bounty of prospects. The players are so cheap, for so long, that the organizations suddenly don’t mind adding the seventh year or the extra zero to players they’re interested in. The Phillies are a fuzzy mess because of long-term deals that went south, yet the Mariners will still have money, even if Robinson Cano hits .202 for the rest of his career. That’s the beauty of younger, affordable players.
If you’re a believer in Coghlan, there isn’t a great way to spend on the lineup. It’s filled with younger players who should play every day and established contributors. The rotation’s the same way, assuming you aren’t freaking out over Kyle Hendricks’s low strikeout rate. This roster is mostly set for next year.
But the point still stands. If the Cubs wanted to go out and build a super-bullpen out of the remaining relievers, they can. Or, more importantly, if the Cubs really wanted that David Price people keep talking about …
PowerPoint slide #4: Joe Maddon
I don’t know how much this matters to a pitcher. But Maddon is the cool dad of baseball.
His presence can’t hurt. This is also a point related to the previous one. The Cubs will spend, even on their managers.
PowerPoint slide #5: What if?
I don’t know how compelling this point really is, but I’d like to think it’s just about the most important one.
Lester missed the 2004 postseason, when the Red Sox shattered the curse. He was in the organization, sure, and he probably watched with a strong sense of pride, but by the time he reached the majors, heads were high. It was already an organization filled with smiling people.
If you’re already guaranteed millions wherever you go, wouldn’t there be a strong pull to be that guy for the World Champion Chicago Cubs, the guy riding in a convertible in a ticker-tape parade, in front of fans who can’t possibly scream loud enough, considering they’re also screaming for lost friends, dads, moms, and grandparents, too. What if the Cubs win the World Series, he might fantasize, and I’m a part of it?
That’s one part ego — the kind of ego it takes to succeed in the majors, mind you — and one part fan-like fascination. When a player is choosing where he’ll live, how far away he is from your family, and how much money he’ll be able to leave for five generations down the line, he isn’t thinking about a stupid curse of the billy goat or Steve Bartman or whatever. This is a life-altering decision that he’ll have to live with for the next decade.
But what if? That has to be an influential pitch, at least a little. What if, man. What if there’s a Cubs renaissance, and the pain and misery and jokes and Norman Rockwell paintings all went away, and you were there?
It’s not enough to sign. But put it with the ability to spend, the promise of the young players, the solid rotation, and the fancy new manager, and you get an idea of why Jon Lester signed with the Cubs. You don’t even have to bring up Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer until the last paragraph. The Cubs are going in the right direction, and everyone knows it. That, and everything else, helped them land their first premium free agent since Alfonso Soriano. It’s a pairing that makes a lot of sense.