Cardinals Could Benefit From Jon Lester’s Six-Year Contract With Cubs
Coming into the 2014 MLB offseason as one of the most highly touted free agents, Jon Lester has found a new home in Chicago. Less than an hour into this morning, the Cubs signed the left-handed pitcher to a six-year deal reportedly worth $155 million.
Lester has built an impressive resume in his nine-year career, winning World Series titles in 2007 and 2013 with the Boston Red Sox. Although he has never won a Cy Young Award, Lester is the owner of 116 wins, 1457 strikeouts and a 3.58 career ERA. He was traded to the Oakland Athletics for Yoenis Cespedes on the final day of the 2014 Trading Deadline, but was denied another long postseason run when the Kansas City Royals ousted the Athletics, 9-8, in the AL Wild Card game.
The 30 year-old has arguably created more buzz than anyone this offseason and it was just three weeks ago that the Cardinals were rumored to be interested in Lester. Cardinal fans will likely see the three-time All-Star in the Gateway City this year, just with the team’s archrivals.
More from St Louis Cardinals News
- Cardinals Rumors: 3 pros and cons of signing Carlos Rodon
- Cardinals: Here is Willson Contreras’ first message for St. Louis fans
- How do the St. Louis Cardinals stack up with Willson Contreras?
- Cardinals: The insane asking price the Athletics had for Sean Murphy
- St. Louis Cardinals: Ask me anything with Josh Jacobs – 12/8
Despite the Cubs’ all-in approach with this blockbuster, the Cardinals could benefit from the Lester acquisition in the long-run. For each year he signed, I’ve provided analysis behind what the southpaw’s contract means to St. Louis.
1. Saves money for realistic long-term needs
The Cardinals showed that pitching was a strength when trading away Shelby Miller to the Atlanta Braves less than a month into the offseason. Miller could have possibly earned a five-year deal through arbitration, but instead the Cardinals decided to invest on outfielder Jason Heyward for at least one year. This move not only shows the Cardinals’ ability to address an anemic offense from last year, but shows they have confidence in their arms moving forward. So instead of gambling on Lester, the Cardinals can try to re-sign the two-time gold glover if he performs well in right field.
2. Difficult adjustments in new league
This is Lester’s first National League team and challenges may arise quickly with new circumstances. First and foremost, he will now have to hit for himself more often. This has been problematic when Lester has faced NL teams on the road, as he has yet to record a major league hit in 43 plate appearances. He has six sacrifice attempts in his career and will likely stick to that offensive role if he can’t adjust his swing. This disadvantage will also affect his pitching habits, as the Cubs may be inclined to use a pinch-hitter rather than leaving in Lester to work later innings in a tight game.
3. Proven inconsistency in past
Lester has been a consistent winner in his American league tenure, but it may be difficult to tell how much of his success has actually came from his performance. In the past three years prior to last season’s All-Star tenure, the lefty posted a mediocre 4.02 ERA while giving up 210 walks and 64 home runs. His 56 career hit-by pitches make for another ugly statistic. Overshadowed by the fact that he pitches deep into games, Lester has only four shutouts in 252 career starts.
Lester has built an impressive resume in his nine-year career, winning World Series championships in 2007 and 2013 with the Boston Red Sox. Although he has never won a Cy Young Award, Lester is the owner of 116 wins, 1457 strikeouts and a 3.58 career ERA.
4. Cardinals can develop rotation from within
Shelby Miller’s absence left one empty role in the Cardinals starting rotation, and St. Louis has enough talent to be creative with their fifth starter role. Miller was one of three homegrown pitchers to win a fifth starter job out of spring training in the Matheny-era (Lance Lynn-2012, Joe Kelly-2014). Lester would have likely created a log jam in the Cardinals’ rotation plans over time had he signed, but now Cardinal arms have a chance to lobby for two spots. The Cardinals hope Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez can earn these spots and bounce back from rough seasons, but the vacancy could open up more hidden gems in spring.
5. Lefty hitters can learn to hit southpaws
After acquiring Jason Heyward, the Cardinals’ projected Opening Day lineup figures to have five left-handed hitters. Last year two of these five lefties slashed above .300 against southpaws, which means the Cardinals will continue to emphasize grinding out at-bats in uncomfortable situations. Lester has limited lefties to a .243 career average against him, but his 40 HRs and 113 walks against lefties proves that hitters can get to him. Not to mention in this year’s AL Wild Card game vs. Kansas City, three Royal lefty-hitters found themselves on base at least once against Lester.
6. Spice up the Cardinals-Cubs rivalry
Admittedly, the Cardinals-Cubs rivalry has meant less since the Redbirds have evolved into a perennial NL central favorite. The Cubs have had five consecutive losing seasons, in which they have lost plenty of series against their archrivals. The average Cardinal fan may want to see St. Louis completely throttle the Cubs, but ideally this weakens the history and significance of the rivalry between the two franchises. While signing Lester does not automatically guarantee the Cubs more wins, it puts them in a position to play more meaningful in-division contests with St. Louis down the stretch.
Overall, signing Lester allows the Cubs to improve as a team and will help the Cardinals learn how to compete against one of Major League Baseball’s highly-touted southpaws. Jon Lester could face the Cardinals as soon as opening night on Sunday, April 15, 2015. But many steps must be taken for the Cardinals to endure the Cubs’ new ace for six years.