Jon Lester Joining Washington Nationals for $5M, Cubs’ Offer Not Close

As first reported by Jon Greenberg and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, and subsequently confirmed by multiple other outlets, Jon Lester and the Washington Nationals are engaged in contract talks. Both Lester and the Cubs had expressed interest in a reunion, but veteran surely wants a chance to play for a team for a team trying to win rather than spending a year as a de facto mascot. While that’s certainly in his best interests, it makes last season even more bittersweet for fans.

The 37-year-old lefty was perhaps the most important free agent signing in Cubs history — and arguably in all of Chicago sports — marking the team’s arrival as a contender and leading them to a title. But since all good things must eventually meet their end, the Cubs paid Lester a $10 million buyout rather than pick up his $25 million option for 2021. As popular as it’s become to chalk everything up to the shrinking budget, Lester’s declining skills weren’t worth the bigger payday.

It would have been nice to have gotten the chance to celebrate Lester’s contributions properly, not just with a video tribute when he and Kyle Schwarber return to Chicago wearing different uniforms from May 17-20. Alas, we’ve known for some time now that nostalgia is just about all that’ll remain from those 2015 and ‘16 teams once the offseason wraps up.

Update: Pending physical Lester’s deal is expected to be for one year and may or may not include a mutual option.

Update #2: The Cubs apparently did make a late offer to Lester, but David Kaplan reports that it “was not close” to what the Nationals promised. In other words, they extended a minor league deal or something insultingly low that he had no choice but to decline.

Update #3: According to Bruce Levine, the deal is for $5 million and does indeed have a mutual option for 2022.

Update #4: According to Gordon Wittenmyer of NBC Sports Chicago, Lester left solely because Hoyer wasn’t authorized to spend anything close to $5 million and opted not to even engage in conversations with the lefty until recently.

Lester, the five-time All-Star who symbolized the cultural and competitive turnaround when he signed as a big-ticket free agent six years ago, wanted to return to Chicago bad enough that he approached the team early in the winter and offered to talk about a deal that was said to be less than what the Nationals ultimately paid.


The mandate from ownership and the business side wouldn’t allow Hoyer to make an offer. And even when the Nationals offer came in, and Lester gave the Cubs a chance to counter, the Cubs were “not close” to the Nats — perhaps as low as $2 million.

This is yet another sign that the Cubs aren’t truly interested in being competitive in 2021. And before you start talking about Lester being over the hill or bidding good riddance to Tyler Chatwood, who signed with Toronto, trying looking at it pragmatically. The Cubs have admitted they’ll need as many as eight starters this season and they couldn’t scrape together even $8 million for a pair of their own former pitchers.

Handing out cheap, short-term deals to middling starters is exactly what rebuilding teams — or, to put it in Cubs parlance, teams conducting a “small reset” — are supposed to do. You fill out the staff and the salaries roll off at the end of the season. If you’re lucky, those guys pitch well enough to be traded at the deadline.

That Hoyer wasn’t allowed to even present an offer to a beloved, franchise-altering pitcher who wanted to return is all you need to know Ricketts’ claim that “I don’t think anybody’s tearing anything down” was complete bullshit. And that’s before we even discuss the Yu Darvish trade or letting Kyle Schwarber walk for nothing. At this point I’ll be shocked if Kris Bryant and Willson Contreras aren’t moved.

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