The Rundown: In Appreciation of Jon Lester, Implications of Short Season on Trade Strategy, COVID-19 Scare Hits Houston

It would be difficult to argue that Jon Lester is not the greatest free agent signing in Chicago sports history. I’m a big hockey fan and I don’t mean to take anything away from Marion Hossa, but I gotta give Lester a slight edge, even though the Blackhawks tallied three championships in the last decade.

With a 60-game schedule — and let’s hold off on playoff talk for now (Evan has yet to start his Quantifying Hope series for 2020) — the next 12 starts Lester makes could be his last with the Cubs, if not his career. Though the big lefty carries a $25 million option for next season, he is unlikely to meet the minimum innings to guarantee a 2021 contract. The Cubs could buy out his option for $10 million, which seems like an awful lot to pay somebody to walk away, but the front office could theoretically justify that because Lester is receiving prorated pay this year.

It would take 200 innings in a normal season to guarantee the gruff starter’s return, so it would seem Lester would need to reach about 75 innings pitched on a prorated scale. That’s certainly doable if he can average 6.1 innings per start, especially with a truncated schedule, but he’ll need to keep his pitch counts down and lower that WHIP just a tad.

That said, would the Cubs consider trading Lester if they think he will be in a position to guarantee next season’s contract? If the Cubs are out of the pennant race by August 31, the goal of the front office should be to reduce payroll, even if it means selling for pennies on the dollar. I’m by no means saying the Cubs should trade someone like Kris Bryant, but they do have a couple of players who are in their final years, or who have signed one-year contracts, that may be interesting to playoff bound teams.

Though Theo Epstein is on record as saying that he will be mindful of the anxiety that players may have with switching teams in the middle of a pandemic, that doesn’t mean that players like José Quintana, Jason Kipnis, Steven Souza, Jr., and Lester have any type of implied trade exemption. With Quintana’s injury, if teams are looking for starting pitching, Lester may be an option. Then again, the two sides may agree to a salary comfortable enough to both to keep Lester on the North Side for one more season.

The likely scenario is that the Cubs will finish another season with a status quo roster and possibly a minor trade or two. Even though Epstein refused to give Bryant the vote of confidence the third baseman would probably have liked, I have to believe the president of baseball operations will leverage the current state of the game (and country) to get some of the team’s core re-signed. That may not include Lester, however. Here’s hoping the man receives his due before parting ways with the club.

Cubs News & Notes

Find Your Inner Hero

COVID-19 reminds us all that we are surrounded by genuine superheroes every day.

Apropos of Nothing

Let it Ride by Bachman-Turner Overdrive may be the most underrated song in the history of rock and roll.

Odds & Sods

Lester has the unlikeliest home run swing. Good for him that he is a proponent of the the universal DH.

Summer Camp Notes

Houston canceled yesterday’s workouts due to the potential COVID-19 exposure.

Astros manager Dusty Baker made some concerning remarks regarding coronavirus safety. When asked what the league’s protocols are for occurrences like a staffer’s possible exposure, he said, “I don’t know.”

Houston infielder Aledmys Díaz intends to wear a face mask when the team begins playing exhibition and regular season games.

Díaz is not alone. A number of MLB players and coaches are experimenting with protective face coverings, including Yankees outfielder Clint Frazier, and Ron Washington, who will coach third base for the Braves this season.

Royals manager Mike Matheny said he is considering the use of openers this season. By the way, and this is just a personal observation, “openers” should never be put in quotes. It is no longer something that is exceptional in its rarity.

The Cardinals’ defense, a strength last year and a big reason for their NL Central championship, has been somewhat shaky since camp reopened.

Mega-rich Yankees starter Gerrit Cole continues to dominate in the team’s intrasquad games. He had nine punchouts yesterday.

Extra Innings

Jason Heyward is the leader MLB needs to help orchestrate change.

They Said It

  • “A trophy is a trophy. I don’t care if it’s 60 games, you still have to win, you still have to play good baseball. It’s not like they’re just handing them out  at the end like, ‘Oh  hey, here’s your participation trophy because you guys showed up this year.’ At the end of the day, we’ll look back on this and people will talk about this season. But you still have to show up, you still have to play well and you still have to do your job to get that trophy, get that ring. That’s still important to us and still important to me.” – Jon Lester
  • “I came here to make sure everybody’s doing the right thing. I had in my mind if they’re not, I was ready to go home.” – Yu Darvish
  • “That’s the guy we’re counting on. [Darvish] can do so much with the baseball. For me, winning comes with pitching and defense, and he’s one of the best in the game when he’s locked in and right. That’s how I expect him to step out there. We feel really good about our chances when he takes the bump.” – David Ross

Monday Walk Up Song

Chicken Fried by the Zac Brown Band – For Lester, and yes it’s a predictable choice but just a little too hard to resist.

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