The Giants have interest in left-hander Jon Lester, according to MLB Network’s Jon Morosi (Twitter link). Lester entered free agency after the Cubs bought him out for $10MM rather than exercise a $25MM club option on the veteran’s services for 2021.
This isn’t the first time Lester has been connected to the Giants, as Morosi notes that Lester “seriously considered” joining the club during his last trip through the free agent market, back in the 2014-15 offseason. Obviously much has changed within the Giants organization in those six years, though the club has some other ties to Lester — both manager Gabe Kapler and pitching coach Andrew Bailey are former teammates, dating back to Lester’s days with the Red Sox.
Lester would offer durability and veteran leadership to a rotation, though he is coming off a lackluster year in terms of on-field results. Over 61 innings with the Cubs in 2020, Lester posted a 5.16 ERA, 2.47 K/BB rate, and 6.2 K/9. With the caveat of the shortened season, that ERA and K/9 represented career-worsts for Lester, while his 1.6 HR/9 was the highest of his career. There wasn’t much to like from the Statcast side either, as Lester gave up a lot of hard contact and his .328 wOBA actually outpaced his .348 xwOBA.
As it happens, these numbers might actually put Lester more squarely on the Giants’ radar. As president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi recently told the San Francisco Chronicle’s John Shea and other reporters, the free agent pitching market contains “a number of guys who have pretty significant pedigree who are coming off injuries or down seasons for whatever reasons. It’s going to be a market where a lot of players are going to be looking to do short-term, make-good deals to re-enter the market. For us, the cases of the guys we signed last year and the pitching infrastructure we’ve built up the last couple of years will be a strong selling point for us for those kinds of targets.”
Lester doesn’t quite fit that model, as another long-term contract in free agency probably isn’t in the cards for a hurler as he enters his age-37 season. Still, landing an innings-eater like Lester would help add some depth to a Giants rotation. Kevin Gausman was re-signed via the qualifying offer, Johnny Cueto is looking to bounce back from a disappointing year of his own, and left-hander Tyler Anderson is currently lined up as the third starter. Beyond that veteran trio, Andrew Suarez, Logan Webb, Conner Menez, and (once he is back from Tommy John surgery) Tyler Beede all project to be rotation candidates, so another seasoned arm could be preferable given the lack of experience among these youngsters.
Lester and the Cubs were known to have mutual interest in a new contract, though there hasn’t been any news on that front in almost a month. Though Jed Hoyer is now running Chicago’s front office rather than Theo Epstein, it’s probably somewhat safe to assume that the interest is still there on the Cubs’ side considering Hoyer’s long stint as assistant GM in the organization (and his own familiarity with Lester when Hoyer was an assistant GM with the Red Sox).