As he waits with the rest of us for the return of baseball, Cubs southpaw Jon Lester chatted with Rob Bradford of WEEI.com about his current activities and future plans. It’s well worth a full read, but we’ll cover a few items of particular hot stove relevance.
Lester certainly doesn’t sound like a player who’s preparing to wrap up his career at the end of his contract. He spoke not only of preparing for the upcoming season but of his future on the mound.
Lester’s free agent deal includes a 2021 vesting/mutual option that would be guaranteed at $25MM if he throws 200 frames in 2020. (With a hefty $10MM buyout, the actual cost difference is $15MM.) The innings target will be prorated to account for a shortened season. Regardless, it’s difficult to imagine the Cubs letting him reach it.
“We’ll figure that out one way or the other,” says Lester. “I will either be here or be a free agent. … I’m open-minded to anything.”
Anything? Anything at all? It may not mean much, but Lester went on to drop an eyebrow-raising line that’s sure to pique the interest of Red Sox fans: “Absolutely it would be cool to go back and finish my career where it all started.”
As Lester noted, there’s still quite a lot of uncertainty to be dealt with before considering where he’ll throw in 2021. “Hopefully, I’m still a good enough caliber pitcher that the want of my services will still be out there for people,” he says. Lester went on to note: “I’m not getting any younger and coming off a year like I had last year, this [season delay] isn’t going to help me.”
It’s hard to imagine there won’t be a market for Lester’s services, even if he’s not the same guy he once was. He allowed more than four earned runs per nine for the second time in three seasons last year. ERA estimators didn’t expect better based upon his peripherals (4.26 FIP; 4.35 xFIP; 4.49 SIERA). Then again, Lester also made 31 starts again … as he has for a remarkable dozen-straight seasons. (Actually, he typically takes the ball 32 or 33 times.)
Lester may not be capable of producing to his own lofty standards, but he was still a quality rotation piece in 2019. He’s also not wrong that, at 36 years of age, his desirability on the open market will depend in large part upon what he’s able to show in 2020 — if indeed there is a season. Lester tells Bradford that he’s staying active but also trying not to “waste bullets down here in the backyard or at some high school,” instead saving them while waiting for “a date to ramp it up.” Here’s hoping he’ll have a chance to do so soon.