Theo Epstein

Signed: Lester Goes To The Cubs

lesterbye

Jon Lester says good-bye to Boston.

 

All along the thought here was that Jon Lester would return to the Boston Red Sox, the team he played for eight-plus seasons until a 2014 deadline deal to the Oakland A’s. But the free agent lefty instead opted for a reported six-year, $155MM deal with the Chicago Cubs.

The deal, which was agreed upon late Tuesday night, includes a vesting option for a seventh season that would bring the total worth of the deal to $170MM. According to ESPNBoston.com’s Gordon Estes, the Red Sox top offer was six years for $135MM with no vesting option included.

Lester, who doesn’t turn 31 until January, was 16-11, 2.46 in 32 starts (21 with Boston) between the Red Sox and A’s last season. The pending free agent was dealt with outfielder Jonny Gomes to the A’s on July 31 for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes and a draft slot. Cespedes has been the subject of trade rumors, which now may pick up with the increased need for a front of the rotation starting pitcher.

The Red Sox reportedly made a one-year offer to bring back another former pitcher, Justin Masterson, but the righty struggled last year with Cleveland and St. Louis. You can expect renewed talks with the Philadelphia Phillies for Cole Hamels.

New Cubs manager Joe Maddon was more than happy to have an old AL East nemesis on his team.

“It’s not often you get to win the lottery,” he said. “We won the baseball lottery so far this year, but now it’s up to us to put it into effect. It’s all theory right now. We’ve got to make it real, but you need pieces like this to make it real.”

“He’s been [to the World Series] before. He understands what it feels like. I want to believe that he could foresee the same thing happening here,” Maddon said.

“Yeah. It definitely sends that message about how [Cubs president Theo Epstein] and the group feels about this particular group, but understand we have a lot of young players that have to grow up, and we have to do a good job of nurturing that and making it happen,” Maddon said. “It’s possible, but having Jon there definitely adds to the flavor and the believability.”1

Baseball free agency…expect the unexpected.

1 – espn.com

Rumors: Big Money Offers For Lester, J Fernandez

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$23MM dollars…that’s a lot of money that you could do a lot with. According to CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman that’s the annual average of the six-year $138MM offer the Chicago Cubs have reportedly made to Jon Lester.

The Cubs approach is a bit puzzling. In July they dealt their number one starter, Jeff Samardzija, to the Oakland A’s for a package at that included shortstop prospect Addison Russell. President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein must have have a jones for Russell, because why deal Samardzija when he still had a year left on his contract?

Epstein said the Cubs goal in 2015 is to win the NL Central. Isn’t that a team’s goal ever year, to win their division? Imagine if Lester decided to sign with Chicago. They could have had a 1-2 punch of Lester and Samardzija. When the trade deadline rolled around, they could have dealt Samardzija if the team was well out of a playoff run. Instead they deprived their fans of a possibly better chance to make the postseason.

Wrigley Field is undergoing a $575MM renovation and so Epstein wants to get a team in that will please the fans and not just because they are “a fun bunch”. They have plenty of good young players in offensive positions, but there isn’t a lot of experience among the starting pitching.

The current Cubs rotation with their 2014 stats (Games started, record, ERA) are Jake Arrieta (25, 10-5, 2.53), who rejuvenated his career after leaving Baltimore, Travis Wood (31, 8-13, 5.03), Kyle Hendricks (13, 7-2, 2.46 – 17 additional starts in minors), and Tsuyoshi Wada (13, 4-4, 3.25 – 18 additional starts in minors). Jacob Turner, who split last season between the Miami Marlins and Cubs, Felix Doubront, who played for the Boston Red Sox and the Cubs, and minor leaguer Eric Jokisch are all candidates for the back end of the starting staff.

Fans of the Miami Marlins, those who will admit to it, let out a collective gasp this past season when ace Jose Fernandez had to undergo season ending Tommy John surgery.

Fernandez, the 2013 NL Rookie of the Year and third place finisher in the NL Cy Young race, was limited to eight starts in 2014. He began a throwing program two months ago and has a target date of July, 2015 for his return.

Owner Jeffrey Loria and GM Dan Jennings know what a hard nosed and successful pitcher they have in Fernandez and are hoping to give him an extension past the first two years of his free agent eligibility (2019-2020). A reported six-year, $40MM offer has been proposed to Fernandez’s agent, Scott Boras.

The Marlins have also offered extensions to outfielder Christian Yelich and shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, and are expected to make a long-term offer to outfielder Marcell Ozuna as well.

Cubs rebuild as Wrigley Field celebrates 100 years

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By Susie Dippel

Wrigley Field celebrates its centennial year in 2014. As Chicago Cubs ownership looks to make renovations to the historic field, they are also looking to rebuild the team.

I recently saw the Cubs play the New York Yankees. It was late in the game and the Cubs were starting to get on base. As the pro-Yankees crowd began to get relentlessly vocal, I looked at the Cubs lineup and thought, “Who is coming up to bat who could really do some damage?” Unfortunately, my subsequent thought was “Um, nobody!”. In April, you tend to think the team just needs a bit more time to jell.  But I don’t get that vibe with this Cub team. In fact, it seems that most players are wondering how long they will be with the team.

The Cubs have many holes to fill before Wrigley Field sees the post-season again. In the last two years, the team lost close to 200 games. Most baseball analysts expect the team to surpass the 66 wins they had in 2013, but not by much.

New manager, Rick Renteria, has plenty of opportunities to develop the youngsters in the lineup. Everyday play will improve catcher Welington Castillo’s skills. Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo need to improve their offensive numbers. Rizzo, in particular, needs some protection in the lineup. The Cubs are also looking for Mike Olt to display the power he showed as a Texas Rangers prospect.

Public speculation has starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija tagged as trade bait for minor prospects. His improved fastball and breaking ball will bring out suitors. Edwin Jackson’s performance has not justified his contract and it looks like the Cubs will look to move him as well. Theo Epstein recently signed Joel Piniero to a minor league contract. Piniero has a chance of making the team if a starting pitcher is traded.

After the season’s first 10 games, veteran Jose Veras has temporarily been removed as the team’s closer. A potential candidate, Pedro Strop, made 37 appearances with a 2.83 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 35 innings of work in the second half of 2013.1 But for now, the job of closer is up for grabs.

As the year progresses, the Cubs front office is expected to make mid-season moves to get more prospects and continue the rebuilding effort. The team’s minor league farm system is considered one of the best, and it’s stocked with young talent.   SS Javier Baez, 3B Kris Bryant and CF Albert Almora are all expected to break into the major leagues in 2014.

It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that in 2014 Wrigley Field will provide the star power. Its rich baseball history and the devotion of Cubs fans is certainly a good reason to go to a ball game. Be prepared to sing along to Harry Caray’s well-loved 7th inning rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”. And remember to “Root, root, root for the home team”.

1 –baseball-reference.com

Susie Dippel is a contributor for Designated For Assignment. Follow her on Twitter (@soozenyc).