Tag Archives: Jon lester

A Christmas card for Cubs fans

cubschristmas

In the past few years, we knew we weren’t getting much from the Cubs during the holidays. No big presents, no reasons to cheer. Just a really good excuse for hitting the egg nog — the spiked variety.

Well, the year without a Santa Claus is over. Just this December the Cubs signed free-agent grand prize Jon Lester, inked right-hander Jason Hammel and acquired catcher Miguel Montero. Those deals come on the heels of landing arguably the best manager in the game in Joe Maddon.

If this year is getting everything on your wish list, the past few years have been like receiving the entire population of the island of misfit toys. Here are the lowlights:

December 2013: The Cubs acquire Justin Ruggiano, Ryan Kalish, Wesley Wright, John Baker and Jose Veras. In a real sign that things are looking up, none are with the Cubs anymore.

December 2012: It didn’t look like much at the time, but the Cubs claimed Hector Rondon off waivers from the Indians on Dec. 6. He had a great year as the Cubs’ closer last season. Besides Rondon, they signed Kyuji Fujikawa, Ian Stewart and Nate Schierholtz — three placeholders while young talent developed.

Those deals came after a flurry of transactions in November, such as signing Dioner Navarro and Shawn Camp, releasing Bryan LaHair and letting Stewart walk. Talk about shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic. Remember, though, if you believed in Theo & Co. you expected the ship to go down to the bottom before coming back up. Signing Scott Feldman was a life preserver, as the Cubs later traded him for Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop.

December 2011: In the first moves of the Epstein regime, the Cubs shipped out Tyler Colvin for Stewart in one of those “Man, I wish I had a crystal ball” moments. They also sent Sean Marshall to the Reds for Travis Wood in a solid, if unspectacular deal. Former closer Manny Corpas was also signed and then went into the witness protection program.

In November of that year, Aramis Ramirez became a free agent, marking the departure of one of the final connections to the last Cubs playoff teams.

December 2010: The highlight, by far, was the signing of free agent Kerry Wood, who had reinvented himself as an effective reliever. The reunion felt good, but like most good reunions, once the party ended, we were left with a hangover and plenty of bitterness.

It’s been a tough few years, no doubt about it. And some of the gifts the Cubs have given us lately will prove to be defective and will go unused in the corner. But for now, Theo better watch out for the mistletoe because there are hordes of Cubs fans who would like to plant a big kiss on his mug.

You can reach Patrick at Cubs Fan Therapy.

Emotional, Rational battle over Lester

Unwrapping the Jon Lester present this morning left me feeling like the kid from “A Christmas Story” — you know, the movie that TBS plays on a loop for 24 hours around the holidays.

Ralphie gets the present he wanted the most, a Red Ryder BB gun. As he unwraps it, he looks like a bubbling volcano of joy. But he tries to keep it cool as his dad explains to him how to use it. That crazy-making tumult of irrational emotion and rational thought is where I sit today. Let’s take a look inside the mind of a crazy Cubs fan:

Rational: I’m not completely surprised by Lester choosing the Cubs. I had bought into Theo Epstein’s plan to start building from the ground up — assemble a core of young talent and then spend money to fill in the missing pieces. A frontline starter was a gaping hole, so the Cubs loosened the purse strings to fill it. Epstein is just following the plan he established from Day 1.

Emotional: Ha! Take that doubters. Suck it. I told you Epstein would spend money, but he wasn’t going to do it like Hendry — throwing money at the many holes in the Cubs operation. Sure, now you’ll all get on the bandwagon. Where were you when Theo and Co. were making shrewd move after shrewd move to build a sustainable contender? You were bitching about losing Samardzija, that’s where.

Rational: Cubs fans should definitely temper expectations. Lester is a huge addition. Miguel Montero is an upgrade at catcher. They landed arguably the best manager in baseball in Joe Maddon. But the Cubs are still a very young team that will experience some growing pains. Can Javier Baez make consistent contact? Can Jake Arrieta duplicate his breakout season? Can Jason Hammel bounce back from his debacle in Oakland? There is reason for optimism, but we need to chill.

Emotional: Cubs win! Cubs win! Cubs win! Get used to it because we’re going to hear that a lot this year. Vegas made the Cubs one of the favorites to win it all next year, and those guys know what they’re doing. Right? Right? Kris Bryant is gonna tear it up. Jorge Soler is the man. And Theo’s not even done making this team better. I’m not saying the Cubs win the World Series this year … but I’m saying the Cubs could win the World Series this year! Will a doctor give you a prescription for Valium to battle unbridled optimism?

Rational: Lester had the best ERA, WHIP, FIP, SO/BB, you name it, year of his career. I’m always wary of guys who get paid coming off a career year, especially when that season is like eight years into a career. It’s unrealistic to assume that he improves upon those numbers. And it was just a couple of years ago that he went 9-14 with a 4.82 ERA. If he plays to his career averages, Lester is still an ace, but he’s not Clayton Kershaw. The Cubs still have question marks in the rotation, though Theo takes a realistic view of the roster and makes moves accordingly.

Emotional: Can you imagine how good Lester can be in the NL after spending almost all of his career in the AL East? Ha. Ha. I pity the fools who think he’s not one of the true studs in the game. And postseason, don’t get me started. The Cubs just have to get to the playoffs and they’ll trot out a No. 1 starter who has the third best postseason ERA OF ALL TIME. All time. That’s a long time.

Rational: The Cubs will be greatly improved. No doubt about it. The Cubs did play over-.500 ball for the last few months of the season last year, and that was without a Lester and with Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo missing chunks with injuries. The bullpen was solid. The offense started clicking. Arrieta and fellow starter Kyle Hendricks were revelations. The Cubbies should be right in the mix to win the Central, and as we saw last year with Kansas City, once you get into the playoffs these days anything is possible. Realistically, though isn’t 2016 a better bet to really contend? The youngsters will have another year under their belts. Theo gets to see what holes remain this year and really fine tune.

Emotional: Wait till next year? Forget it. This year is next year! (yells and fires Red Ryder BB gun into the air).

You can reach me at Patrick@CubsFanTherapy.com.

Cubs Offseason Dream Is Lester

There’s the dream of the Cubs’ offseason, the nightmare and the reality, and never the twain shall meet. That’s what it always seemed like anyway.

Edwin Jackson was not part of anyone’s dream in 2013. That was really a dreamless offseason, though. Many Cubs fans had put themselves in a cocoon of oblivion as Theo Epstein & Co. rocketed us into a more promising future. Now that we’ve arrived it’s time to dream again.

Unlike so many years past, this season’s offseason dreams aren’t of the pipe dream variety. I don’t know how many years I’d sit there and say we need three starters, a big bat in the outfield, bullpen help etc. etc. etc.

Not this year. So many pieces are already in place that my dream is a simple one: Jon Lester. Sure, I’ll take another cheap veteran starter, maybe an outfielder with a decent OBP, but what I really want in my Christmas stocking is the left-handed ace. After watching the A’s and Royals last night, I’m more convinced than ever that a rotation anchored by Lester and Jake Arrieta with a lineup featuring Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, Jorge Soler, Kris Bryant and Javier Baez can not only make the playoffs next season, they can win there.

That’s really the heart of my dream. I want a team capable of winning postseason baseball games, and I don’t think the Cubs are very far from that reality. Epstein’s comments this week that the Cubs have set their eyes on the ’15 NL Central crown leads me to believe he feels the same. Maybe he even knows that his connection to Lester from their Boston days makes the dream of signing him closer to a reality than the fans know.

If Lester goes to the Yankees or back to the Red Sox, does the offseason become a nightmare? Not really. More like waking up with some indigestion from that extra piece of pizza you told yourself you shouldn’t have but ate anyway. A couple of Tumms and you’re good to go back to sleep … and dream. Maybe that dream contains Royals starter James Shields, Pirates lefty Francisco Liriano or Yankees righty Brandon McCarthy. Maybe as a consolation prize for not landing Lester, the Cubs sign catcher Russell Martin to a team friendly deal.

The thing is that even without adding Lester or Martin, the Cubs can be pretty good next year. They’ll add Bryant to a team that went 31-28 down the stretch. A Cubs offseason nightmare seems unlikely. Unless Baez decides not to study tape but to eat cheesecake all day instead. Or Soler slips at the pool and tears both his hamstrings. Or Rizzo parlays his 32 homers into trying to become the mayor of Rush Street.

When the Cubs head to Spring Training next season, I think we’ll see that the offseason dream and the reality were closer to each other than they have been in years. And that’s a good step on the way to fulfilling postseason dreams.

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You can reach us at Patrick@CubsFanTherapy.com.

Theo, It’s Tamper Time To Get Lester

Red Sox bigwig Larry Lucchino said today that contract talks between Boston and ace Jon Lester are being shelved until after the season. Do you see Theo Epstein meeting the left-hander in the shadows of a parking garage? I do.

Theo: “This conversation never happened. Do you hear me?”

Lester: “Got it.”

Theo, lowering his voice: “Larry’s gonna try to screw you. Don’t listen to his crap. And believe me I’ve heard plenty of it. If you sign, you lose.”

Lester: “Are you saying you can do better?”

Theo, raising his voice almost above a whisper: “I’m not saying that. I can’t say that. without tampering. I didn’t work my whole life to get to this point to be brought down by trying to steal another team’s player.”

Lester: “You sound kind of nutty, Theo. And why are we in a parking garage? Can we go get a beer or something?”

Theo, in his normal voice: “Sure.”

They start to walk out.

Theo: “And by the way, I’ll definitely do better than Boston. We need a guy like you in Chicago, and I’d love to stick it to Larry.”

Have you ever changed jobs? Then you know that there is often behind-the-scenes discussions between people who know each other. Friends lure friends to work for their new company. Happens all the time. Does anyone acknowledge it? No. Do leagues have rules against it? Absolutely. But there is no doubt it happens.

If Theo isn’t working his relationship with Lester to try to get him to Chicago, he’s not the leader we think he is. And I think he’s a pretty good leader.

Lester is exactly the kind of pitcher the Cubs need this offseason. Will Theo have to overpay for a 30-year-old? Definitely. With so many young hitters signed to very, very team friendly contracts, the Cubs can afford to overpay for an ace type starter. It’s a better scenario than losing some of the Cubs highly touted and meticulously assembled prospects in a trade for pitching. Many people think that’s what the Cubs would have to do to land someone like David Price.

Lester might not be Price, but he’s pretty darn good. Take a look at his numbers and you’ll see that he’s consistently really good.

Lester is paying lip service to the fact that waiting to negotiate until after the season doesn’t mean he wants to leave Boston. That’s perfect. Maybe the Red Sox will be inclined to keep him through the end of the season. We need Boston to remain within striking distance of the weak AL East lead to solidify that possibility.

And then the Cubs strike and steal him from Boston. In the meantime, Theo can keep the courtship going on the down low. Maybe not in a parking garage.

You can reach us at Cubs Fan Therapy.