The Nationals have added another well-known veteran to an already experienced pitching staff, announcing Wednesday that they’ve agreed to a one-year contract with left-hander Jon Lester. The ACES client will reportedly earn $5MM on a one-year deal for the upcoming season. The Nationals’ 40-man roster is now at 38 players.
Washington becomes the fourth organization for Lester, a 37-year-old who was previously with the Red Sox, Athletics and Cubs. Lester was especially impactful as a member of the Sox and Cubs, with whom he combined to win three World Series championships and pick up five All-Star appearances.
Lester spent the previous six seasons in Chicago, where he largely lived up to the $155MM deal he signed before 2015, but his production fell off during his last two years in their uniform. After he combined for a 4.64 ERA/4.62 SIERA in 232 2/3 innings during that span, the Cubs let Lester reach free agency earlier this winter, turning down his $25MM option for next season in favor of a $10MM buyout.
While Lester expressed interest in remaining with the Cubs after they allowed him to become a free agent, there haven’t been reports of serious talks between him and the team since then. Bruce Levine of 670 The Score tweets that the Cubs did make an offer to Lester, but it was “nowhere near” the still-modest $5MM sum he’s promised on his deal with the Nats. By signing in D.C., Lester will be reunited with Dave Martinez, who served as Joe Maddon’s bench coach in Chicago prior to being named Nationals manager.
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said earlier in the offseason he wanted to add a starter to the back of the team’s rotation, and Lester gives him a durable veteran to add to the mix. The Nats have an enviable top three in Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin, but the rest of their rotation looks somewhat questionable with Joe Ross, Erick Fedde and Austin Voth as possibilities to earn roles in 2021.
Granted, after posting a 5.16 ERA/5.02 SIERA over 61 frames last year, Lester might not prove to be part of the solution, but the Nats are surely counting on Lester to be more of a veteran innings eater than the staff ace that he was at his peak. It’s possible the Nationals will continue to add to this mix with some non-roster veterans who can provide competition for Ross, Fedde, Voth and other in-house rotation options.
From a payroll vantage point, the recent additions of Lester and lefty reliever Brad Hand bump the Nats up to about $199MM in 2021 salary and about $195MM in terms of luxury-tax obligations, per Roster Resource’s Jason Martinez. That leaves the Nats with about $15MM of leeway to pursue further additions while still remaining south of the $210MM luxury-tax barrier.
Ken Rosenthal and Jon Greenberg first reported that the two sides were in talks. The Chicago Sun Times’ Russell Dorsey added that a deal was close, and ESPN’s Jeff Passan tweeted that a deal was in place. USA Today’s Bob Nightengale and 670 The Score’s Bruce Levine added financial details.