The Cubs are going to have to go for at least six years' worth of Jon Lester and perhaps even seven if they want to outbid his other suitors. For now, we're not talking about the money but the length of the contract.
You might think that the last couple of years of that deal might not be worth it, but Mark Gonzales of the Tribune talked to some baseball people who say it would be:
"I'd give it to him," said one American League scout who witnessed several of Lester's starts last season, when he was a combined 16-11 with a 2.46 ERA in 32 starts with the Red Sox and Athletics. "He's successful, consistent and never complains. "If you're giving him six years, you try to get five good ones."
Lester has thrown a lot of innings in his career, but in large part that's because he's been so durable. He hasn't missed a start since becoming a regular rotation starter halfway through the 2007 season. Gonzales writes:
The one major factor, however, that convinces many that Lester can remain effective for a lengthy period is that his array of pitches — fastball, cut fastball, slider, curve and changeup — is sharp enough to compensate for any dip in velocity.
Sounds reasonable to me. And if you still need more convincing, here's a quote from someone who saw him pitch up close and personal both before and after his trade from the Red Sox to the Athletics:
"We saw the same guy as we saw on the other side," said one evaluator with the A's, who acquired Lester before the July 31 trade deadline. "He's durable, transfers his weight well and his delivery is sound. "He has proven you don't have to throw 98 mph to be a power pitcher because of his cut fastball that makes his 93 mph fastball seem like it's 98 mph."
So the length of this deal shouldn't scare the Cubs off. Six years for Lester, who turns 31 in January, likely won't be an issue and if the Cubs have to add a seventh year as an option year, they could probably do so without too much concern.
Get it done, Theo.