Cubs make earth-shattering move with Lester acquisition

BY Ken Rosenthal • December 10, 2014


This is an earthquake. For the Cubs. For the NL Central. For baseball.

Free-agent left-hander Jon Lester’s six-year, $155 million agreement with the Cubs is that big of a deal, that much of a game-changer, that much of an example of the ground shifting under everyone’s feet.

The waiting is over. The Cubs are back. Wrigley Field is alive. Lester, manager Joe Maddon and Co. are not simply going to aim for 2017 and wait for some of the game’s top offensive prospects to develop. No, the Cubs are going for it, and they’re going for it now.

Rest assured, this will not be the Cubs’ last move. They’ve been talking to some of Lester’s former Red Sox teammates, free agents such as catcher David Ross and outfielder Jonny Gomes. And they’ve got the prospect power to acquire more pitching (Johnny Cueto? Jordan Zimmermann? Aroldis Chapman?) or a big bat (oh, what the heck, Troy Tulowitzki?).

It’s too early to say that the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry again will define the Central, not with the Pirates coming off two straight postseason appearances and reaching agreement Tuesday with free-agent left-hander Francisco Liriano on a three-year, $39 contract. But, as Joel Sherman noted on MLB Network Tuesday night, it will be interesting to see how the Reds react.

The Reds are drawing major interest in Cueto and Chapman, according to major-league sources. They are trying to steer the teams calling on Cueto to their other starters entering their free-agent years — righties Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Alfredo Simon. But the return for Cueto could be massive, and it’s probably time for the Reds to restock rather than try to compete against the coming Cubs monster.

No, not all of the youngsters will become stars; the game does not work that way. But remember, we have yet to see Kris Bryant, the Cubs’ uber-prospect at third base. And the Cubs have improved not just with Lester, but also with the signing of free-agent right-hander Jason Hammel and trade for catcher Miguel Montero.

Of course, Cubs fans being Cubs fans, they’re probably thinking: Something will go wrong. Something will always go wrong. Well, sorry. Lester and Cubs executives Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein already helped end one curse. They’re not going to be cowed by another.

Four prominent teams wanted Lester, who is represented by Seth and Sam Levinson - wanted him not just for his pitching dominance, but also for his presence and character. Six years is too long for any pitcher, particularly one who will turn 31 on Jan. 7. But a trainer with a rival major-league club said that Lester is as low-risk as they come, given his delivery and powerful build.

So, here we go.

Winning a World Series requires luck as well as skill, and there certainly is no guarantee that this group will be lucky enough to pull off the Cubs’ first World Series title since 1908. But at least now Wrigley will be rocking next summer. And when Wrigley is rocking, even for Cardinals fans, baseball is a better place.

It’s an earthquake, all right. Six years, $155 million on the Richter scale.

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