The Rundown: Tip of the Cap to Lester, Cubs Sign IFA Studs, League Awaits Union Counter, MLB Veterans Talk Diversity on MLK Day

“You know I like my chicken fried, a cold beer on a Friday night, a pair of jeans that fit just right and the radio up.”Chicken Fried, The Zac Brown Band.

How about a cold beer for retired Cubs legend Jon Lester? Why not retire his number? In fact, I’ll go one better: Sign Lester to a one-day contract and let him officially retire as a Cub. Heck, Mayor Lightfoot should present the lefthander with a key to the city. I could go on with the adulation.

Big Jon gave the team credibility when he signed as a free agent in December 2014, which came on the heels of Theo Epstein poaching Joe Maddon from the Rays a month earlier. Suddenly a 3-5 year plan was drastically shortened, giving the Cubs their first World Series championship in 108 years just two years later. For that, Lester represents the golden age of Cubs baseball, one that may prove to be more difficult to repeat than any of us imagined when we woke up redeemed and hungover on November 3, 2016.

Ironically, the big lefty finished with the same winning percentage (.636) and ERA (3.44) with the Cubs that he did in 11 seasons with the Red Sox. How’s that for consistency? You might get a different answer from a Boston fan, but Lester arguably means more to Chicago’s North Side Baseballers than he does to their Beantown brethren. The Red Sox have always been on the periphery of a championship, save a few underperforming seasons. The Cubs are still newbies to the theory that major market teams can be consistent winners.

In fact, that’s the main reason many of us believe the Cubs need to find another Lester-type free agent to restore credibility to its front office. Maybe that’s Carlos Correa, or maybe it’s Marcus Stroman, who signed just before the league locked out its players.

We’ll see if the addition of Stroman attracts other big names to Wrigley Field. Still, one more major free agent could reverse course for a franchise that boasts only Jason Heyward, Willson Contreras, Kyle Hendricks, and manager David Ross from that championship season.

A one-day contract would be the kind of positive PR this organization so desperately needs, and retiring No. 34 might also be a nice homage to Kerry Wood as well. The Cubs have been devoid of feel-good moments for so long, a tribute like that might actually humanize Tom Ricketts to whatever extent that’s possible.

In the meantime, I’ve got dibs on Lester’s first post-retirement beer. I’m even willing to load the jukebox with selections by Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith, and Zac Brown. But Mr. Ricketts should take advantage of what is a layup of an opportunity and do the right thing.

If he doesn’t, feel free to tirelessly lecture the team’s chairman the next time you see him roaming the stands of Wrigley Field. In fact, if Lester’s jersey isn’t retired, I’ll buy seats in the Ricketts section each time I visit the Friendly Confines this summer, just so I can personally remind him of how to treat fans like he actually cares about them.

Cubs News & Notes

Odds & Sods

Tommy Pham has yet to live this down.

Climbing the Ladder

“I ain’t as good as I once was. I’ve got a few years on me now. But there was a time, back in my prime when I could really lay it down.”As Good As I Once Was, Toby Keith

  • Lester ended his career with a 77-44 record for the North Siders and an even 200 wins overall.
  • He averaged 8.44 strikeouts per nine innings with the Cubs, the highest mark of his career.
  • The big lefty was 3-3 as a postseason starter for Chicago, none bigger than the eight innings of shutout baseball he tossed at the Giants in the 2016 NLDS.
  • Lester was named MVP of the 2016 NLCS.
  • In 10 postseason starts from 2015-18, Lester compiled a 2.44 ERA across 70 IP. He is arguably the best playoff pitcher since the league went to its divisional format.
  • Lester smashed three home runs in 282 at-bats in six seasons with the Cubs. That ties him with Nico Hoerner and several others on the team’s all-time list. He added another while playing for the Nationals last season.

Baseball News & Notes

The Tigers are one of baseball’s most improved teams, but are they ready to break through in a tough division that includes the White Sox, Indians, and Twins? The Royals are on the come, too. Should be a fun summer in the Midwest.

The Mariners may be the best potential fit for third baseman Kris Bryant. The Cubs are considered longshots to bring Bryant back.

The Braves could target starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw once the lockout ends. If the Cubs are looking for their next Lester, Kershaw would be an awfully good target on a three-year $60-65 million deal.

CC Sabathia said he would like to see the Yankees target free-agent shortstop Trevor Story and first baseman Matt Olson in a trade with the A’s.

The Twins announced the IFA signing of the younger brother of Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr.

Right-hander Aníbal Sánchez is considering a return to baseball in 2022. Sánchez, who turns 38 next month, hasn’t pitched since 2020.

For the Rev. Doctor Martin Luther King…sing.

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and MLB Network will air a discussion on the league’s lack of diversity featuring Dusty Baker, Michael Bourn, Jerry Manuel, Cameron Maybin, and Ron Washington. The special will air at 4pm CT this afternoon and in reruns thereafter.

White Sox executive Kenny Williams is also disappointed with the league’s diversification efforts, indicating things haven’t changed much in 20 years.

Negotiations & Love Songs

League owners are waiting for a labor counterproposal from the players’ union.

The reaction by MLBPA leaders to the owners’ initial proposal was less than favorable.

Three of the bigger CBA topics of discussion include league revenues, the competitive balance tax, and team control over players.

The league’s blatant refusal to discuss service time is unsettling and will likely create a standoff until one side gives in.

It’s getting more and more difficult to see clubs reporting to spring camps on time this year.

The Atlantic League’s robo-umps could become a casualty of the current labor negotiations.

Today’s Baseball Jones

Lester’s greatest moment at the plate may have been a 12th-inning, pinch-hit, walk-off suicide squeeze to beat the Mariners 7-6 on July 31, 2016. At that moment, it felt like the Cubs were destined to win the World Series. Our own Jon Strong provided the recap of that game.

Extra Innings

Have you seen Spider-Man: No Way Home yet? That flick gave me a new appreciation for Pete Crow-Armstrong, who possesses a similar ability to rapidly scale vertical structures. It may be no coincidence that he and the superhero share a first name. Perhaps his nickname should be Spider-Man.

They Said It

  • “I’m never going to say, ‘look at me. I’m your leader.’ I’m not a very vocal guy. I treat my job as a job while having fun at the same time. I’m not here to screw off. I’m here to win and do my job to the best of my ability. Call it cocky, call it arrogant, call it whatever you want. I’m a winner, and that’s what I came here to do.” – Lester, at his introductory presser in 2014.
  • “This is a great day for our fans. They’ve been so patient, incredibly patient, over the last couple of years.” – Theo Epstein, when introducing Lester to the Chicago media.

Monday Walk-Up Song

Red Solo Cup by Toby Keith – Next round is on me, Big Jon.

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