12/10 NL Central now tougher

Neither Theo Epstein or Jed Hoyer would comment on the Jon Lester deal, confirmed late Tuesday. But agent Scott Boras did, even though Lester is not his client.

“I think the Cubs got a great deal,” Boras said. “I think he’s a really, really impactful player and a dominant, dominant pitcher.”

Boras represents Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta as well as some free agents still on the market, including Max Scherzer. At last year’s Winter Meetings, the agent was critical of the Cubs’ lack of spending. On Wednesday, he sounded pleased at their moves plus what’s going on with the White Sox.

“It’s great to see the ‘Monsters of the Midway’ are back at it on both sides of town,” Boras said.

The Cubs moves, which include acquiring catcher Miguel Montero, so far have not cost them any of their top prospects or future Draft picks.

“People ask if we’re all in for ’15, and the best response is we’re all in for the future and the future starts in ’15,” Epstein said Wednesday. “[The 2015 season] is important. We’re going to do some things to put as competitive a roster as possible on the field and try to win.

“Our goal is to try to win the division, and, as Joe [Maddon] said, to win the World Series,” Epstein said. “We’re aware of what we’re growing. … We’re trying to build towards a long run where we can have success year in and year out. We’re not going to sacrifice that even as we try to maximize our ’15 roster.”

The rest of the NL Central took notice.

“My thoughts are the division got tougher,” Cardinals GM John Mozeliak said.

“It’s a lot of money for a lot of years,” Reds GM Walt Jocketty said of the Lester deal, “but they probably had to do that to get him. It will certainly make them a better club.”

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle: “It definitely gives them, I’ve got to believe, self-confidence, self-esteem that you’ve got a leader in that rotation. You’ve got a go-to guy every fifth day.

“The Cubs, we know they’re hungry,” Hurdle said. “I love playing in our division. It’s an exciting division. It challenges you and you’ve got to be sharp.”

Lester signed a six-year, $155 million contract late Tuesday, although the deal is pending a physical and has not been formally announced by the Cubs.

– Carrie Muskat

12/10 Rule 5 Draft

The Cubs have the eighth pick in the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday, and were expected to complete two deals done earlier this year and reveal the players to be named later.

Theo Epstein said they may not make a selection Thursday in the Rule 5 Draft but have had other teams interested in their pick. In December 2006, the Cubs used their pick in the Rule 5 Draft to take Josh Hamilton off the Devil Rays roster, but the outfielder was immediately dealt to the Reds.

The Cubs’ 40-man roster is at 38, with pitchers Jason Hammel and Jon Lester still to be formally added once their deals are completed.

The Cubs were expected to complete two earlier transactions. They owe the Red Sox a player for the July 30 deal in which the Cubs acquired left-handed pitcher Felix Doubront. On July 4, the Cubs dealt Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Athletics for Minor Leaguers Billy McKinney and Addison Russell, pitcher Dan Straily, and a player to be named later. That transaction also was to be finalized Thursday.

– Carrie Muskat

12/10 Monsters of the Midway

Agent Scott Boras held court Wednesday at the Winter Meetings, which he typically does, and addressed several topics, including the Cubs recent signing of free agent Jon Lester.

“Jon Lester, you go to the games, you watch him pitch, you sit behind him, this guy has great stuff,” Boras said. “He’s really a difficult pitcher to hit now because he’s really learned to regulate his speeds. He can overpower you, he can finesse you, and he really is a big-game pitcher. I think the Cubs got a great deal. I think he’s a really, really impactful player and a dominant, dominant pitcher.”

A year ago, Boras criticized the Cubs for not spending on free agents. This year is different.

“This is the place we’d always hoped the Cubs would be,” Boras said. “That is, filling the stadium with the type of talent that is going to make it a contending team. It’s hard, there’s no question, to take the steps that they’ve done, to bring in some veteran players. I think, much like swimming pools, when there’s too many kids in the pool, it changes the color of the water. You’ve got to make sure that that combination is appropriate to win, but certainly I give the Ricketts family and the group that they’ve given the ‘go’ sign on this -– it’s great to see the monsters of the midway are back at it on both sides of town.”

Re: the “monsters” reference, Boras was referring to the moves the White Sox have made.

– Carrie Muskat

12/10 Cubs, Gomes and Upton

The Cubs made new manager Joe Maddon happy by adding his bench coach, Dave Martinez, to the staff. Could they also add outfielder Jonny Gomes? Gomes, 34, who played for the Rays from 2003-08, could be another attractive right-handed bat for the bench, one of the “clubhouse dudes” Maddon is looking for to help mentor the younger players. It would be interesting if he was signed by the Cubs. Gomes was included with Jon Lester in the Red Sox trade to the Athletics for Yoenis Cespedes last July.

David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported the Cubs and Padres are “turning up” their efforts to add a right-handed power bat, and could be looking at Justin Upton.

The Cubs do want to add an extra outfielder, but also plan on giving most of the at-bats to Jorge Soler, and they were happy with Chris Coghlan’s performance. Arismendy Alcantara is playing center field in the Dominican Republic.

– Carrie Muskat

12/10 Lester contract details

Jon Lester’s six-year, $155 million contract with the Cubs is the largest the team has ever given a free agent. Here are some details, courtesy of ESPN’s Jayson Stark:

* The deal includes a signing bonus of $30 million to be paid over the life of the contract, a full no-trade clause (first Theo Epstein has given), and a $25 million vesting option for the 2021 season that could bring the total take to $170 million. The option would vest if Lester pitches at least 200 innings in 2020 or at least 400 in the 2019 and 2020 seasons combined.

* The reported average annual value for Lester’s deal of $25.8 million would be the second highest for a pitcher behind Clayton Kershaw’s $30.7 million, part of his seven-year, $215 million deal with the Dodgers.

* Lester’s deal is the highest ever given to a free agent pitcher on a multi-year deal.

12/10 Lester says goodbye and hello

Jon Lester said goodbye to Red Sox fans on his Twitter account early Wednesday. Here are his two posts:

“Extremely difficult decision for me and my family but we love the outcome and couldn’t be more excited to join the Cubs organization! #NVRQT”

“To Red Sox Nation, I understand the disappointment. Boston will always have a big place in my heart and we’ll always consider y’all family!”

The “NVRQT” is a reference to Lester’s involvement with the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation. Lester was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 21. He survived, and is dedicated to help others, encouraging children to never quit.

– Carrie Muskat

12/9 Maddon: We won the baseball lottery

As far as Joe Maddon is concerned, the Cubs won the lottery by getting Jon Lester. The next step is to win the World Series.

Late Tuesday, Lester picked the Cubs over his former team, the Red Sox, and agreed to a six-year, $155 million contract, the largest in franchise history.

FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal was first to report the deal. The Cubs would not confirm it, but Maddon did, holding court in the lobby of the Manchester Grand Hyatt after dinner in downtown San Diego.

“This definitely propels us into Plan A, which is kind of neat,” said Maddon, who received a text message from Theo Epstein with the news. “It’s a big day for us, moving forward. It really brings a lot of different factors together. It’s very exciting.”

Maddon was eager to hear why Lester picked the Cubs.

“It would have a lot to do with the familiarity with Theo and the guys who were there [in Boston],” Maddon said. “I think he sees the potential with the group and the direction we’re headed. I want to believe that had a lot to do with it, and I’m curious to see what he says.”

Epstein, Cubs GM Jed Hoyer and Lester all won a World Series in Boston. Could they do that with the Cubs?

“It definitely makes it more believable to everybody else in that room,” Maddon said of the Cubs players. “I’ll stand up and make the same speech regardless but when you have it backed up by that particular kind of presence, it adds to it. I can’t deny any of that. Having people like that in the room definitely helps other guys believe this is possible.”

If Lester and the Cubs were to win a World Series, which would be the franchise’s first since 1908, then the left-hander would be the first pitcher with championship rings from both the Cubs and Red Sox. Think about that for a moment. Lester probably did, Maddon said.

“He’s been there before, he understands what it feels like,” Maddon said. “I want to believe he could foresee the same thing happening here. From my perspective it’s exciting to be involved in this moment.”

For Maddon, it’s quite a change after being on the outside looking in as the Yankees and Red Sox were big spenders in the East and he was trying to win with the Rays.

“It’s different,” Maddon said. “I have not been on this side since my days with the Angels when I got an email in Italy that we had signed Vladimir Guerrero. … That’s the last time I was involved in this kind of a moment.”

And the last time he was this excited?

“Let’s see, [it’s when] my grandson was born,” he said. “Giuseppe was born about a year and a half ago. That was the last time.”

Epstein’s only long-term deal since he took over the Cubs was a four-year, $52 million contract he gave Edwin Jackson. Lester’s puts him in the upper echelon regarding pitcher salaries, second only to Clayton Kershaw in terms of average annual value.

“It’s not often you get to win the lottery,” Maddon said. “We won the baseball lottery so far this year. Now it’s up to us to put it into effect. It’s all theory right now and we have to make it real. You need pieces like this to make it real.”

– Carrie Muskat

12/9 Report: Lester to Cubs

FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal reports Jon Lester is going to the Cubs, signing a six-year, $155 million contract.

12/9 It’s down to two …

Jon Lester told the Giants Tuesday night that they were no longer in contention. It’s now down to the Cubs vs. Red Sox to acquire the free agent left-hander.

“I hope we win it,” Joe Maddon said Tuesday of the sweepstakes.

Does Theo Epstein feel the Cubs are in the mix?

“As Joe said, we hope to win the sweepstakes,” Epstein said. “That’s well put.”

– Carrie Muskat

12/9 Maddon on Lester talks: “I hope we win it”

What’s Joe Maddon’s take on the Jon Lester sweepstakes?

“I hope we win it,” Maddon said Tuesday.

Speaking to the media at the Winter Meetings, Maddon said he had a phone conversation with Lester in November, part of the Cubs recruiting process. They discussed hunting, the AL East, past games, and how much respect Maddon has for the left-hander.

“I always admired his work from a distance,” Maddon said. “This is a guy who, when the game was really big, he was always at his best. To possibly get this opportunity to work with him for the first time is very exciting. I honest to God don’t know where this is at right now.”

Maddon does acknowledge that it will be tough for Lester to leave Boston.

“Having been with the Red Sox his whole career and all the wonderful success he’s had there, you would think it would be a difficult situation,” Maddon said. “I can’t speak for that, personally. As an opponent, this guy was always at his best when it seemed to matter most. You want to get to him early because if you permit him to settle, he’s definitely going to be there in the seventh or eighth innings.

“You can’t have any respect for a Major League baseball player than we do for him right now. For us to be able to pull this off would be pretty outstanding.”

Did Maddon have any idea as to how long it will be before Lester makes a decision?

“I’m sure it’s not going to be much longer,” Maddon said. “I really have no information or knowledge about that. You just wait for the white smoke.”

– Carrie Muskat

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