The Jon Lester trade was confusing for the St. Louis Cardinals, but the move now looks like a stroke of genius by the front office.
The Jon Lester trade, at least in the moment, was puzzling for the St. Louis Cardinals. He was 37 years old and had a 5.02 ERA in 16 starts with the Washington Nationals. Acquiring him appeared to make little sense.
But the Cardinals envisioned him eating innings and performing at a higher level behind such a strong defense. It’s why they traded Lane Thomas, an outfielder who was likely to get designated for assignment, and used it on a lottery ticket in Lester. If it worked, they’d get a starter who can pitch five or more innings. If it didn’t work, they could let Lester walk as a free agent after the season.
After a rough start – Lester allowed 4 or more runs in three of his first five appearances – he has settled in. He has allowed only one run in three consecutive appearances, this time doing it in 5.1 innings against the Milwaukee Brewers and outdueling Corbin Burnes, who is going to finish in the top-3 in Cy Young Award voting.
It’s been a needed development for the Cardinals, who have been without Jack Flaherty for almost the entire second half of the season, and have been searching for competent pitching all season. Lester has allowed them to successfully navigate that stretch, with the team winning in his last five starts. He will be crucial in the coming weeks as they look to overtake the second NL wild card spot and, fortunately for the Cardinals, has experience pitching in big games, logging 154 innings (26 starts) throughout his postseason career.
This is more than what the Cardinals could have hoped for when acquiring Lester and president of baseball operations John Mozeliak deserves credit for identifying him as a trade target. He was not on many radars in July and was the most unheralded of the many players the Nationals ended up trading.
But Lester, quite frankly, may have saved the Cardinals’ season. Those five wins in his start could easily make the difference between them making the playoffs and not making it. Who could have seen that coming?