Cubs Net Big Fish in Lester

Top free agent starting pitcher Jon Lester is heading to the Chicago Cubs.

Late Tuesday night, the news broke at the MLB Winter Meetings that Jon Lester had agreed to a contract with the Cubs. Ken Rosenthal of was the first to report the signing. Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports reports that the deal is six-years, $155 million. The Boston Red Sox were the runner-ups in the Lester sweepstakes.

Lester came into the meetings weighing several multi-year offers and was thought to be deciding between the Boston Red Sox, the Cubs and the San Francisco Giants. The Giants were eliminated from consideration late Tuesday. The Los Angeles Dodgers were a late bidder in the race, but were also not among the final two candidates.

The Red Sox, of course, were the team to which Lester had the closest ties. He was a second-round pick of the Red Sox in 2002 out of high school and spent his entire career in Boston until the Red Sox traded the left-hander at the trade deadline this past July. Lester spent the final two months of the 2014 season with the Oakland A’s, but the A’s were never involved in the bidding for Lester’s services beyond the 2014 season.

Lester now has an opportunity to bring a World Championship to an organization that hasn’t had one since 1906. Lester was in the Red Sox organization when they won the first title in Boston since 1918, but he was in the minor leagues. Being part of the Cubs would allow Lester the chance to experience what some of his Red Sox’s teammates did when they broke the “Curse of the Bambino”. Lester will bring with him to Chicago two World Series titles, having won rings with Boston in 2007 and 2013.

The Lester signing is the third big move made by the Cubs during the meetings. On Monday, they signed RHP Jason Hammel and on Tuesday they acquired catcher Miguel Montero. The Cubs are expected to continue to upgrade their major-league roster heading into the 2015 season.

Lester has a few connections to the Cubs’ organization. Team president Theo Epstein was the General Manager for much of the time that Lester was in Boston, and GM Jed Hoyer was also in the Boston front office during Lester’s time there. Lester was teammates with Hammels in Oakland and outfielder Ryan Sweeney in Boston. Cubs’ first baseman Anthony Rizzo was a prospect in the Red Sox’s organization when Lester was with the big league club. Rizzo was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2008 while in the Boston organization and met Lester, a survivor of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, shortly after his diagnosis. Rizzo was part of the Cubs’ contingent attempting to woo Lester to Chicago.

The Cubs are coming off of a last place finish in the NL East, but they have one of the deepest farm systems in baseball and look poised to be contenders in the near term. The 30-year-old left-hander is 116-67 with a 3.58 ERA in nine big league seasons. Lester had a 2.46 ERA for Boston and Oakland in 2014, which was arguably the best season of his career. He struck-out 220 and walked 48 in 219.2 innings in 2014 and was an AL All-Star.

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