Sometimes in life, it’s not always what you do, instead it’s what you don’t do. In a previous article, I highlighted how fortunate the San Francisco Giants were that third baseman Pablo Sandoval decided to sign a 5 year/$95 million contract with the Boston Red Sox. It was an easy argument to make simply because Sandoval has been terrible thus far.
The point I’m taking up now is more of a challenge: the Giants also lucked out in swinging and missing on their other main off-season goal last year, Chicago Cubs pitcher Jon Lester.
The Giants reportedly offered Lester a six-year contract worth $150 million during the last off-season. Lester rebuffed the offer, only to sign with the Chicago Cubs for less years and only slightly less money. While it may not appear so now, with the Cubs reaching the NLCS this season and the Giants missing the playoffs by a distance, San Francisco will look back and noticed they dodged a bullet when Lester passed on their offer.
By most accounts Lester had another solid season. He posted a 3.34 ERA and topped 200 innings-pitched for the seventh time in his career. The 31-year-old was overshadowed by his near immaculate teammate Jake Arietta, but he did all the Cubs could have asked for.
Unfortunately, when you are guaranteed almost $25 million per year, you are going to face unfair judgments if you are anything short of the second coming of Sandy Koufax. While still solid, many of Lester’s numbers trended in the wrong direction this year. His ERA and WHIP both increased from 2014, his total innings pitched was down, and this all happened after Lester switched from the American League to the National League, where he ought to have seen his numbers creep downward in the absence of the designated hitter.
Oct 17, 2015; New York City, NY, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester (34) walks to the dugout after being relieved in the 7th inning against the New York Mets in game one of the NLCS at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
As for his postseason performances, October was once Lester’s strong suit, but he has been atrocious in his past three postseason starts, going 0-2 with a 6.37 ERA. His poor performance in his past two postseasons certainly contributed to why both the Oakland Athletics and Cubs made untimely exits from the playoffs in 2014 and 2015, respectively. As a rule, pitchers should not be judged off such a small sample. However, Lester was paid in large part because he was expected to contribute late in the season and into the playoffs when it matter most.
Lester is on the wrong side of thirty and pitchers rarely stay dominant well into their fourth decade. Father time is ticking, and by the time Lester’s current contract expires he will be 37 years-old.
The money saved by the Giants inability to sign Lester opens up their possibilities moving forward. The Giants are going to sign a starter. They may even sign two. One of them could potentially be front line.
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There are a number of quality options this year. The 2015 Cy Young candidates, Zack Greinke and David Price will be available, along with Jordan Zimmermann (who the Giants have been linked most this offseason) and Johnny Cueto hit the open market. Both had comparable seasons to Lester but are two years younger.
Lester is good. He has been great. He could be great again. In the end, San Francisco will look back and be thankful Lester took his talents and high contract demands to the Windy City.