Cubs President of Baseball Operations Jed Hoyer (still feels weird to type that name after that title) had a Zoom call with reporters Thursday, and per Jordan Bastian at cubs.com, said the door was still open for Jon Lester to return in 2021:
“We’ve been very consistent in our communication with his representatives,” Hoyer said. “If things could work out, we’d love to have him back. I think we have to figure some things out first. Obviously, that kind of goes without saying, because otherwise something would be done by now. There’s some things we want to work through first.
“What he’s done for us is amazing, and certainly we’re not ready to close that door.”
Lester’s overall numbers in 2020 were not good: 5.16 ERA, 1.328 WHIP, -0.2 bWAR and a strikeout rate (6.2 per nine innings) that was quite a bit lower than his career norm (8.4 prior to 2020).
However, I would like to remind you of these numbers in the 12 starts he made in the pandemic-shortened season, as I pointed out here in October:
Lester vs. White Sox: two starts, 7⅓ innings, 18.41 ERA, 2.455 WHIP, five home runs
Lester vs. all other teams: 10 starts, 53⅔ innings, 3.35 ERA, 1.174 WHIP, six home runs
So just get him to avoid the White Sox and he’ll be fine!
Obviously, it’s not quite that simple. It seems clear that Lester, at his age and with his fastball velocity clearly down, is vulnerable to teams with a lot of righthanded power, like the Sox. The Sox had five players hit 10 or more home runs in 2020; only three other teams did that (Braves, Phillies, Dodgers), but the Sox were the only such team where all five 10-homer men hit righthanded.
Now, presuming we have a full season in 2021 (and there’s no guarantee of that), the Cubs couldn’t spend the entire season having Lester avoid teams with righthanded home-run hitters. But again with a full season, teams like that aren’t going to comprise 16.7 percent of Lester’s starts.
If the Cubs can put together a financial offer acceptable to Lester, yes, I’d love to see him back for one more year.
Also noted in Bastian’s article were Hoyer’s comments about having just two outfielders (Ian Happ, Jason Heyward) on the team’s 40-man roster.
“We need three?” Hoyer quipped in a Zoom call on Thursday. “Certainly, we’re aware of our numbers. I think that’s something that we’ve certainly prioritized.”
“We’re totally comfortable with Ian playing center,” Hoyer said. “But obviously, if an acquisition brought us a center fielder — kind of a pure, natural center fielder — Ian would be well above-average defensively in left. And we could certainly do that.”
Of course, it’s still possible that the Cubs will bring Kyle Schwarber back for 2021 and play (mostly) the same outfield that they did in 2020. But Hoyer left the door open for the acquisition of a “pure, natural center fielder.” Among center fielders who are currently free agents who could be attractive to the Cubs are David Dahl, Jackie Bradley Jr., Brian Goodwin and Kevin Pillar. None of those players would likely be too expensive. All come with various caveats (age, performance, money). They likely wouldn’t be free agents if they didn’t. The Cubs should look seriously at all of those players.
There’s still not much happening for the Chicago Cubs in the uncertain baseball winter of 2020-21. But this should warm up the very cold hot stove, at least a little.
Should the Cubs bring back Jon Lester, presuming the price is right?
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If you could choose just one of these outfielders for the Cubs to sign, who would it be?
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Jackie Bradley Jr.
Someone else (leave in comments)
None of the above