The Chicago Cubs introduced their new big money ace Jon Lester yesterday, and while the press conference itself wasn't particularly entertaining – especially compared to the quirk and quotability of the Joe Maddon presser just a few weeks ago – its significance is apparent. The signing of Lester, along with the hiring of new manager Maddon, is a clear message to Cubs fans that the era of bottoming out is over and the era of winning is ready to begin.
In fact, Lester's contract quieted any speculation that the Cubs either didn't have the money Theo Epstein needed, or were hesitant to spend. His contract, $155 million over six years, is the largest multi-year contract in the history of Chicago sports.
So the big question is, is Lester really worth it?
Yes. He's a proven ace who can be the head of a championship pitching rotation. He’s a lefty with the mechanics built for a long career and just the kind of experience a young Cubs team needs. He has won two World Series, both with the Red Sox, and is a three-time all-star. He provides the kind of stability on the mound the Cubs have so badly needed, which will also take some of the pressure off their young bats every fifth game while they continue to grow.
But to me, more than what Lester brings to the field, this signing is the Cubs brass sending a loud message to the fan base that this Cubs team is ready to win – now. Both Lester and Maddon discussed it at both of their press conferences, as did Epstein. Lester is by no means young. Entering his tenth season, this signing was much more about the present than it was about the future.
Some have compared this deal to the one the Cubs gave Alfonso Soriano in 2006, an eight-year, $136 million contract. But the biggest difference to me is that when they signed Soriano, the Cubs were not focusing any energy on their farm system. There wasn't a young bat waiting in the wings preparing to take over once Soriano began his decline, which also started way sooner than the Cubs predicted. But this is a new era, and while Lester is helping the Cubs win now, he is also allowing youngsters like Kyle Hendricks and CJ Edwards develop at their own pace.
This is the first time in almost a decade that I've been truly excited for baseball season. Regular season baseball games on the North Side will actually matter in 2015. Since Theo Epstein was hired back in 2011, the Cubs have preached patience. And I don't care what Back to the Future II says, I am not expecting a World Series next year. But now we can finally start to see the fruits of our collected suffering over the last seven years.
As long as we remember to continue tempering our expectations and understand that the growing pains are still far from over, we are in store for an extremely entertaining baseball season - words that I'm hoping to become more and more comfortable using in reference to the Cubs for many years to come.