Hopefully, Jon Lester brought a warm coat to Wrigley Field Tuesday. According to a source, Lester met with the Cubs in what was believed to be the second stop on the free agent’s offseason tour of prospective teams. The Wrigleyville area was in a deep chill because of an early blast of winter weather. It’s up to Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer, who know Lester from their days together in Boston, to convince the lefty that it won’t be this cold on Opening Night, April 5, at Wrigley Field. The Cubs would not confirm the meeting.
After losing in their bid for free agent catcher Russell Martin, Epstein and Hoyer shifted their focus to adding an ace to the rotation. Lester fits that role, compiling a 116-67 record and 3.58 ERA over nine seasons.
Lester will reportedly meet Thursday with the Braves, who do have an edge over the other teams. In the offseason, the pitcher lives in suburban Atlanta, about a half hour drive from the Braves’ ballpark.
Would Lester be willing to make a switch from the American League to the Cubs? MLB Network’s Peter Gammons, interviewed on a Boston radio station Tuesday, said he believes Lester will return to the Red Sox. Boston traded Lester to Oakland on July 31, and the lefty finished the season 6-4 with a 2.35 ERA in 11 starts with the Athletics. Lester was 10-7 with a 2.52 ERA in 21 starts with Red Sox before the trade.
After Lester was dealt to the A’s, he told Boston Herald writer John Tomase that he wouldn’t be opposed to coming back to Boston.
“The [Red Sox] told me [after the trade to Oakland], ‘We’re going to be aggressive. You’re going to get blown out of the water by some of these [other] offers,’” Lester said. “I’m like, ‘I don’t need to be blown out of the water.’ Why would I need to be blown out of the water? That doesn’t make or break your decision, at least for me. I’m not going to the highest bidder. I’m going to the place that makes me and my family happy. If that’s Boston, it’s Boston.”
– Carrie Muskat
If Jon Lester is in Chicago Tuesday, hopefully, he brought a warm coat and scarf. The free agent pitcher was reportedly meeting with Cubs officials as he sorts out his options for 2015. An early winter blast and wind chill dropped temperatures to single digits at Wrigley Field. Cubs execs Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer know Lester well from their days together with the Red Sox. The pitcher has reportedly met with the Red Sox, and was to talk to the Braves on Thursday. The Braves do have an edge over the other teams because Lester lives in suburban Atlanta, about a half hour drive from the Braves’ ballpark.
After Lester was dealt to the Athletics, he told Boston Herald writer John Tomase that he wouldn’t be against returning to the Red Sox.
“The [Red Sox] told me [after the trade to Oakland], ‘We’re going to be aggressive. You’re going to get blown out of the water by some of these [other] offers,’” Lester told the Boston Herald. “I’m like, ‘I don’t need to be blown out of the water.’ Why would I need to be blown out of the water? That doesn’t make or break your decision, at least for me. I’m not going to the highest bidder. I’m going to the place that makes me and my family happy. If that’s Boston, it’s Boston.”
On Tuesday, Peter Gammons said he believes Lester will return to the Red Sox. Speaking on a Boston radio station, Gammons said the Cubs will make every play, but added they think he’ll return to Boston.
– Carrie Muskat
Bill Mueller, who resigned as the Cubs hitting coach after one season, has taken a job as an assistant hitting coach with the Cardinals, St. Louis GM John Mozeliak announced Monday. Mueller left after the Cubs decided not to retain assistant hitting coach Mike Brumley.
– Carrie Muskat
WEEI’s Rob Bradford reports the Red Sox will have met with Jon Lester prior to the free agent pitcher’s scheduled to get together with Cubs officials on Tuesday. The Cubs are in the market to add a starting pitcher and Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer know Lester well from their days together in Boston.
With Russell Martin signing with the Blue Jays, here are the free agent catchers still on the market and their 2014 stats:
John Buck (Mariners/Angels): 32 games, .225
Ryan Doumit (Braves): 100 games, .197
Nick Hundley (Padres/Orioles): 63 games, .247
Gerald Laird (Braves): 53 games, .204
Jeff Mathis (Marlins): 64 games, .200
Wil Nieves (Phillies): 36 games, .254
Ronny Paulino: Did not play in Major Leagues in 2013-14
A.J. Pierzynski (Red Sox/Cardinals): 87 games, .251
David Ross (Red Sox): 50 games, .184
Geovany Soto (Rangers, Athletics): 24 games, .250
* Note: Hundley, Mathis have player options for 2015
Cubs fans can cross Russell Martin off their wish list. According to reports Monday, the 31-year-old free agent catcher signed a five-year, $82 million deal with the Blue Jays. The Cubs were viewed as the front runner for Martin, but most likely were not willing to commit that type of deal.
Could the Cubs sign free agent catcher Russell Martin? FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal posted on Twitter that executives involved in bidding for Martin feel the Cubs are the “clear front runner.” Rosenthal said they project a deal in the four-year, $64 million range. The Cubs would like to upgrade at catcher after a disappointing offensive season by Welington Castillo. Martin reportedly met with Cubs officials at Wrigley Field earlier this month. Other teams reportedly pursuing Martin include the Dodgers, Blue Jays and Pirates.
The Pirates did extend Martin a qualifying offer, which he declined. The Cubs’ top pick in the June Draft (ninth overall) is protected, and they would have to give up their second-round pick if they did sign Martin.
– Carrie Muskat
The Cubs acquired infielder Tommy La Stella from the Braves, as well as Atlanta’s No. 4 international signing bonus slot, for right-handed pitcher Arodys Vizcaino and three international signing bonus slots (slot Nos. 2, 3 and 4).
La Stella, 25, made his Major League debut with the Braves last season and led NL rookies with 36 walks and a .328 on-base percentage. In 93 games, he batted .251 (80-for-319) with 16 doubles, one home run and 31 RBIs, and compiled a .984 fielding percentage in 88 games at second base. He began the year at Triple-A, his first time at that level, and hit .293 (49-for-167) with a .384 on-base percentage in 47 games for Gwinnett prior to his promotion to the Majors.
Vizcaino, 24, pitched in five September games for the Cubs last season and posted a 5.40 ERA in his first Major League action since undergoing Tommy John surgery in March of 2012. He was acquired from the Braves with right-handed pitcher Jaye Chapman, on July 30, 2012, for left-handed pitcher Paul Maholm and outfielder Reed Johnson.
With the moves, the Braves added $832,000 in international bonus pool money by trading La Stella plus the No. 4 slot to the Cubs for Vizcaino plus slots 2, 3 and 4.
La Stella did hit one home run in his first big league season, and that came off the Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg on Aug. 8.
“We have enough firepower around where we don’t need anything crazy,” Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez said when La Stella was promoted in May. “We don’t need anybody to come in and win the batting title or the home run title. Get on base and give us an opportunity to lengthen our lineup.”
La Stella replaced Dan Uggla at second for the Braves.
“He’s a guy that’s going to split the gaps, get on base,” Gonzalez said of La Stella. “He’s got great plate discipline. It’s good to be able to have that in your lineup. It’s nice to have that change, and hopefully he gives us something.”
– Carrie Muskat
Here’s the crowd of participants taking part in Anthony Rizzo’s third Walk Off for Cancer, held Sunday in his hometown of Parkland, Fla. Rizzo has raised more than $100,000 each of the first two years of his walk. You can still donate at http://www.rizzo44.com
(photo courtesy of Chicago Cubs)