This offseason has brought major changes to the Cubs, who have lost president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and key on-field contributors in Yu Darvish, Kyle Schwarber and Victor Caratini since the winter began. Free-agent left-hander Jon Lester may be one of the next to officially go, as Robert Murray of FanSided reports “there has been little indication of progress toward a reunion” between the two sides.
Soon to turn 37 years old, Lester reached free agency when the Cubs declined his $25MM option for 2021 in favor of a $10MM buyout. That was a straightforward decision for the Cubs, though Lester didn’t harbor any ill will toward the club in its aftermath. He even said there was “mutual” interest in a new deal once Chicago terminated his previous pact. Since then, however, there hasn’t been much news on Lester. San Francisco is the only reported team that has shown interest in him in the past several weeks.
On paper, losing Lester probably won’t be a big blow to the Cubs. After all, the former star struggled to a 5.16 ERA/5.14 FIP in 61 innings last season, and also wasn’t a world-beater in 2019. However, having made enormous contributions to the franchise since joining it in 2015, Lester is a Cubs great and well-respected veteran who, even in this late stage of his career, has shown he’s capable of eating innings on a regular basis. In fact, he amassed at least 171 2/3 frames in each of his first five seasons as a Cub before last year’s pandemic-shortened campaign.
Lester shouldn’t be expensive for the Cubs to re-sign, but if they don’t bring him back, they may need to find another source(s) of innings from outside the organization. Kyle Hendricks and Zach Davies (whom they acquired in the Darvish trade) are the only truly proven starters on the roster. While Alec Mills did pile up 62 1/3 innings in 2020, he didn’t prevent runs at a strong clip. There’s little experience to speak of otherwise among starting possibilities on the Cubs’ 40-man roster. Colin Rea and Adbert Alzolay could vie for spots, and their No. 1-ranked prospect, Brailyn Marquez, might be in for a larger major league role next season after throwing just two-thirds of an inning in 2020.