Reports of “Mystery Team” Add Even More Suspense to Jon Lester Sweepstakes

The Jon Lester sweepstakes just kicked up a notch after a report suggested that a “mystery team” is now in the mix with the likes of Chicago, Boston, and the reigning World Series champion Giants. Any time the term “mystery team” is associated with a big-time player worth big-time cash, one organization usually comes to mind: those damn Yankees.

These reports are unconfirmed, however, as it has been fairly quiet on the Yankee front…for now. Others could be deemed the “mystery team” as well because its no secret that Lester is a pretty valuable commodity. I only guess the Yankees are the dark horse because they are always willing to break the bank in order to land a valued free agent, despite the heavy contracts they already have to deal with in 2015.

No big deal though, right? No way a team like the Yankees can just swoop in and steal a free agent right from the Cubs’ nose (Masahiro Tanaka). The Cubs, reportedly, have the largest offer on the table for the prized lefty at six years, totaling $138 million. Lester is as good as theirs, right?

Damn it all to hell.

But let’s not panic. Nothing against Mr. Abbatacola, but nothing was reported by a credible baseball source saying the Yankees were a legitimate threat. Though any report involving the Yankees willing to throw big money around a free agent isn’t good for anybody.

It’s happening again. The stupid Yankees are being themselves. Again. Can’t they just stay out of the Cubs’ way?

And if that wasn’t enough, there is reportedly even more competition for the sought-after lefty.

Its not that I don’t take the Angels as a legitimate threat, but  who knows if they are actually serious about taking part in this bidding war. They have money, but a lot of it is locked away in Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, and Howie Kendrick, while a lot more of it will be invested in Mike Trout when the time inevitably comes. With all that said, it doesn’t mean the Angels are out of it. Due to their willingness to spend, and their lack of starting pitching depth, it is fair to assume the Angels are apart of this conversation.

As for the Dodgers, yikes. This could get ugly.

LA, believe it or not, has more money to blow than the Yankees, and that’s saying a lot. If the Dodgers were to go in on Jon Lester, their payroll would eclipse $250 million in 2015. That is beyond insane. With the Dodgers now involved, the price of Lester will go up almost as quickly as the stud lefty’s smile after he saw the report.

Before, the two main contenders to land Lester were the Cubs and Red Sox. Boston presented an offer early in November that reported to be for six years and $110 million. With that offer left on the table, and nearly a month until the Winter Meetings, Boston went to work on acquiring some super talent. It’s believed that their offer now stands at six years, $130 million.

Hanley Ramirez (4 years, $88MM with a 5th year option worth $22MM) and Pablo Sandoval (5 years, $98MM) were brought in to make the Red Sox an instant contender in 2015 after the disappointing hangover season that followed their 2013 World Series title. With the addition of two game-changing stars, it’s hard to ignore the kind of damage Boston can potentially do in the American League next year.

Boston suddenly seems really attractive to Lester, as if they were not already (don’t forget, he spent his entire career in Boston until he was traded in July last season). The problem with the Red Sox now, however, is their willingness to increase their previous offer a third time. With an already busy and expensive offseason, Boston looks to put a giant sized bow on the end of 2014 by bringing back a familiar face.

As for the Giants, it seemed like they were behind the Cubs and Red Sox in the Lester sweepstakes because the Cubs could just dance around any kind of offer San Francisco tries to pitch. Yes, the Giants just won the World Series, and yes they have a squad that can win now. But at this point, its pretty much the Cubs and Red Sox (unless the Yankees or Dodgers come in and dangle $200 mil out there).

It should be noted that the Cardinals are rumored to be interested in Lester, though it is unlikely St. Louis will be willing to throw the kind of money the likes of LA, Chicago, and Boston are projected to dish out.

So how are the Cubs chances at landing Lester and when can we expect his decision?

Peter Gammons said back in November that he believed the Red Sox would win in the Lester sweepstakes. Today, during an appearance on MLB Network’s radio program, he stated that his opinion swayed in favor of the Cubs. Usually when Gammons throws in his two cents, more times than not it comes to fruition. That doesn’t mean it will happen, of course, but the support of Gammons has me feeling pretty good.

The Cubs strategically offered Lester $23MM/year over six seasons and it still stands as the largest offer on the table. However, due to the late charge of a “mystery team,” the Cubs may have to invest more in the lefty, which could suggest more cash and a 7th year.

This is exactly what Jon Lester and his people were hoping for. Now he can sit back and let the bidding war unfold. If the Cubs are serious, they are going to have to throw big-time money the soon-to-be 30-year-old’s way. But if they want to play with the big kids, it’s time for the Cubs to dig into those deep pockets.

When it is all said and done, I would not be surprised if the Cubs offered 7 years, $160 million. That may be what it takes to get the job done.

Sean McAdam of Comcast Sportsnet Boston reported that a decision may come by the end of the week from Lester’s camp because he would prefer to lock up a deal before the Winter Meetings begin.

Good news for people like me who wake up in the morning and refresh our Twitter feeds for 14 straight hours, just to do it all again the next day waiting for that moment when Lester signs.

The Cubs have made their pitch. Lester knows what he would be walking into if he decided to pitch on the North Side. A renovated ballpark with a brand new clubhouse, a stadium similar to Boston’s in the sense of history and fans’ passion, and, of course, the chance to achieve ultimate glory by winning a World Series title as a Cub.

Winning is not necessarily far off for the Cubs, as their three-year rebuild plan is beginning to take shape and young core players are on the fringe of becoming everyday contributors. Deeming the Cubs a playoff team this early is perhaps a bit much, but adding Lester would bolster their chances of at least a Wild Card.

The Cubs can win this deal. It is their time to take the calculated risk of investing in someone as valuable as Jon Lester.

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