(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
The biggest move of baseball’s offseason became official Monday when the Cubs and pitcher Jon Lester agreed to terms on a six-year contract that includes a vesting option for the 2021 season.
Lester, 30, is a three-time All-Star and a two-time World Series champion during his nine seasons with the Boston Red Sox (2006-14) and Oakland Athletics (2014). He has a pair of top five Cy Young Award finishes (2010 and 2014, both fourth), four top 10 finishes for the ERA title and six top 10 finishes in wins. The left-hander has made more than 30 starts in each of the last seven seasons, eclipsed 200 innings in six of the past seven and has three seasons with more than 200 strikeouts. His .634 career winning percentage (116-67) ranks fifth among all active pitchers.
The Cubs beat out teams like Boston, the Dodgers and San Francisco, who were all reported to have offered the southpaw significant deals. In the end though, the steps the Cubs had taken to produce sustained success swayed the starter.
“I believe in the plan and the thing that’s in place right now for the future of the Cubs,” Lester said. “Obviously leaving a place that you’ve already won and the comfort of that it’s difficult, but also you can relish in the process of enjoying the chance of winning a World Series for a franchise that never has just adds that little extra for me.”
Overall, Lester is 116-67 with a 3.58 ERA (635 ER/1,596.0 IP) in 253 major league appearances, all but one as a starting pitcher. Among big league left-handed pitchers active at the end of the 2014 campaign, he ranks best with an average of only 0.82 home runs per nine innings, second with 8.22 strikeouts per nine innings, third in ERA, fourth in wins and WHIP (1.28), and fifth with 1,457 strikeouts and 156 quality starts. He threw the 18th no-hitter in Red Sox history on May 19, 2008, a 7-0 victory against the Kansas City Royals at Fenway Park.
A World Champion with the Red Sox in 2007 and 2013, Lester is 6-4 with a 2.57 ERA in 14 postseason appearances, 12 as a starter. He has won all three of his World Series starts, posting a 0.43 ERA, and was the winning pitcher in the clinching Game 4 in 2007 in Colorado.
Lester turned in one of the best seasons of his career in 2014 when he went 16-11 with a 2.46 ERA in 32 starts with the Red Sox and Athletics. He earned an All-Star nod and recorded his lowest single-season ERA, which ranked fourth in the American League. He struck out 220 batters and walked only 48, good for a 4.6 strikeout-to-walk ratio that ranked seventh in the league. Lester was 10-7 with a 2.52 ERA in 21 starts for the Red Sox before being traded to Oakland on July 31, where he went 6-4 with an even better 2.35 ERA in 11 starts.
Eptsein and current Cubs General Manager Jed Hoyer were members of Boston’s front office for the majority of Lester’s tenure, with Epstein serving as general manager from 2003-11. Along with Lester’s success on the field, Epstein said he respects the pitcher’s drive and character, which were equally important attributes that led to the signing.
“He’s focused, competitive, hard working, intense and now fully mature. I think he’s got good self-awareness and understands the group concept,” said Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein. “And he’s at his best in the most important moments, I think because he’s so driven and focused and not swayed on outside variables like pressure.”
The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Lester was originally selected by the Red Sox in the second round of the 2002 Draft (57th overall) out of high school and was in the big leagues just four years later at the age of 22. He made his debut on June 10, 2006, and made 15 starts before being diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma in late-August. Lester was declared cancer-free in December of that year and returned to the big leagues on July 23, 2007, going a perfect 4-0 with a 4.57 ERA in 12 outings (11 starts) down the stretch to help the Red Sox to the playoffs and a World Series championship.
Lester began his run of seven straight seasons with more than 30 starts in 2008 and has posted 15 or more victories in six of those seasons, including a career-high 19 wins in 2010, his first of two-straight All-Star seasons. He struck out 225 batters in consecutive seasons in 2009 and 2010, his single-season career bests. In 2013, Lester went 4-1 with a 1.56 ERA in five postseason starts to lead the Red Sox to the 2013 World Series championship.
Photo by Stephen Green
The Cubs and right-handed pitcher Jason Hammel officially agreed to terms on a two-year contract that includes a club option for the 2017 season on Friday.
The 32-year-old Hammel joins the Cubs organization for the second time this year, as he signed a one-year deal with the club for the 2014 campaign in February. The right-hander went 8-5 with a 2.98 ERA (36 ER/108.2 IP) in 17 starts with the Cubs, striking out 104 and walking only 23 in 108.2 innings pitched, before being traded to Oakland with fellow right-hander Jeff Samardzija on July 5 for infielder Addison Russell, outfielder Billy McKinney and right-hander Dan Straily. With the Cubs, Hammel limited opponents to a .222 batting average and turned in a 1.02 WHIP.
On the year, Hammel combined to go 10-11 with a 3.47 ERA (68 ER/176.1 IP) in 30 outings, all but one as a starter, between the Cubs and the A’s. After dropping his first four starts with Oakland in July, Hammel rebounded to post a 2.86 ERA in four August starts and a 2.20 ERA in five September outings (four starts) to help Oakland to a postseason berth. With this move, he also reunites with manager Joe Maddon, whom he pitched for in Tampa Bay from 2006-08.
Hammel is 59-70 with four saves and a 4.60 ERA in 245 major league appearances (187 starts) with Tampa Bay (2006-08), Colorado (2009-11), Baltimore (2012-13), the Cubs (2013) and Oakland (2014). He has three 10-win seasons to his credit (2009, 2010 and 2013) and has made 20 or more starts in each of the last six seasons, including two years with 30 or more starts (2009, 2010).
The 6-foot-6, 225-pound Hammel was originally selected by Tampa Bay in the 10th round of the 2002 Draft and made his big league debut with the club in 2006 at the age of 23. He is a native of Greenville, South Carolina, and graduated from South Kitsap High School in Port Orchard, Washington. He pitched at Treasure Valley Community College in Oregon.
The 2014 Winter Meetings were whirlwind few days for the baseball community, as numerous teams made blockbuster moves and signed highly sought after free agents. Another annual aspect of the meetings took place Thursday with the Rule 5 Draft, and the Cubs were active participants.
In the Triple-A phase of Thursday’s Rule 5 Draft, the Cubs selected outfielder Ariel Ovando. In four minor league seasons in the Astros’ farm system, the 21-year-old hit .233/.299/.335 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 14 home runs and 43 doubles. It’s reported by MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat that the club will try to convert the lefty thrower into a pitcher.
Unlike the first portion of the draft, the club is not required to keep Ovando on the major league club this season.
However, the draft also resulted in a loss of three Cubs farmhands, with the Marlins selecting lefty reliever Andrew McKirahan in the first round, while slugger Rock Shoulders and catcher Luis Flores were taken by the Rangers and Astros, respectively, in the minor league portion.
The 24-year-old McKirahan has had a solid four-year minor league career, posting a 2.16 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 128 strikeouts over 120.2 innings. He split 2014 between High-A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee, posting a 2.08 ERA over 65.0 innings and fanning 57 batters. He was originally drafted by the Cubs in the 21st round of the 2011 draft out of the University of Texas. The Marlins must keep McKirahan on the 25-man roster this season or send him back to the Cubs’ organization.
Shoulders hit 30 home runs over the last two seasons in Single-A ball and has the ability to draw walks, earning 121 free passes in that span. He has a career slash line of .243/.343/.427, but most of his numbers took a significant dip when he made the jump from Kane County to Daytona in 2014. The Cubs selected Shoulders in the 25th round of the 2011 draft.
Flores will join the Astros’ organization after seven seasons in the Cubs’ system. The 28-year-old split time between Double-A and Triple-A in 2014, amassing a .253/.388/.371 line with five homers in 67 games. He’s a career .213 hitter, a number weighed down by a poor offensive start to his career. Flores was originally drafted in the seventh round of the 2008 draft.
The Cubs also selected shortstop Taylor Featherston from Colorado in the first-round selection, but traded the 25-year-old to the Angels for cash considerations.
(Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty)
The Cubs acquired catcher Miguel Montero from the Arizona Diamondbacks for minor league right-handed pitchers Jeferson Mejia and Zack Godley in a trade that was finalized Tuesday afternoon at the Winter Meetings.
The 31-year-old Montero went to his second career All-Star Game last season and hit .243/.329/.370 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 13 home runs and 72 driven in on the year. The backstop has spent his entire career in Arizona, where he originally signed as an amateur free agent in 2001.
The left-handed hitting catcher made his major league debut in 2006 and was was Arizona’s primary catcher by the 2009 campaign. He enjoyed his finest year in 2011, when he batted .282 (139-for-493) with 36 doubles, 18 home runs, 86 RBI and an .820 OPS in 140 games. He also earned his first All-Star appearance that season and helped the Diamondbacks to the NL West title.
Montero carried that effort into the following year, batting .286/.391/.829 with 15 homers, 25 doubles and 88 RBI in 486 at-bats in 2012. During the 2012 campaign, he signed a five-year extension through 2017.
Overall, he is a career .264 hitter (795-for-3,017) with 172 doubles, 97 home runs, 448 RBI and a .342 on-base percentage in 906 major league contests, averaging 31 doubles, 17 home runs and 80 RBI per 162 games.
The 20-year-old Mejia went 2-4 with a 2.48 ERA in 12 games (two starts, 40.0 innings pitched) in rookie ball last season, his first year pitching in the United States. He signed with the Cubs as a non-drafted free agent out of the Dominican Republic.
Godley, 24, combined to go 4-3 with 15 saves and a 3.09 ERA (55.1 IP) in 40 relief appearances between Single-A Kane County and Daytona last season. He was drafted by the Cubs in the 10th round of the 2013 Draft out of the University of Tennessee.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
After 16 seasons in the majors, longtime Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster has announced he will retire from baseball and take a position in the Cubs’ front office.
The right-hander was able to retire as a member of the Cubs organization and will become a special assistant to baseball president Theo Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer.
The 37-year-old concludes his career as a two-time All-Star and a 2013 World Series Champion with the Red Sox, in what would become his final active season in the majors. He was an All-Star with the Marlins in 2000 and the Cubs in 2008, a year that marked his return to the rotation in which he went 17-6 with a 2.96 ERA to help the team to a second straight NL Central division title.
Overall, the well-liked Dempster spent nine seasons with the Cubs from 2004-12 and posted 67 wins and 87 saves, the only pitcher in club history with more than 50 wins and 50 saves.
For his career, the right-hander went 132-133 with 87 saves and a 4.35 ERA in 579 appearances (351 starts). Along with his time on the North Side and his season in Boston, Dempster played for Florida (1998-2002), Cincinnati (2002-03) and Texas (2012).
His new role with the organization will include spending time with the club during Spring Training, visiting the club’s minor league affiliates during the season, evaluating amateur players leading up to the draft and going on professional scouting assignments.
Dave Martinez served as Joe Maddon’s bench coach in Tampa Bay. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
The Cubs named Dave Martinez the club’s major league bench coach and shifted Brandon Hyde to first base coach Thursday.
They also appointed Henry Blanco the club’s major league quality assurance coach. Doug Dascenzo, who had been named first base coach on Oct. 9, will remain in the organization as outfield and baserunning coordinator with responsibilities in the major and minor leagues.
The announcement completes manager Joe Maddon’s coaching staff for the 2015 campaign: Martinez (bench coach), Chris Bosio (pitching coach), Hyde (first base coach), Gary Jones (third base coach), John Mallee (hitting coach), Lester Strode (bullpen coach), Mike Borzello (catching and strategy coach), Eric Hinske (assistant hitting coach), Blanco (quality assurance coach) and Franklin Font (staff assistant).
The 50-year-old Martinez served as Maddon’s bench coach in Tampa Bay and returns to the organization that originally drafted him in the third round of the 1983 Draft. Martinez was first named as a Spring Training coach for Maddon in 2006 and 2007 before being named to the big league staff on Oct. 11, 2007.
A former outfielder, Martinez played 16 seasons in the big leagues with nine teams: the Cubs (1986-88, 2000), Montreal (1988-91), Cincinnati (1992), San Francisco (1993-94), the White Sox (1995-97), Tampa Bay (1998-2000), Texas (2000), Toronto (2000) and Atlanta (2001). Over his career, he batted .276 with 91 homers and 580 RBI in 1,919 major league games.
Blanco, 43, completed a 25-year professional catching career last year when he retired with the Diamondbacks at the end of Spring Training and joined the club’s big league coaching staff as an assistant. He spent four seasons with the Cubs, helping the club to consecutive National League Central titles in 2007 and 2008.
Overall, Blanco played in 971 major league games covering 16 seasons and 11 teams: Los Angeles Dodgers (1997), Colorado (1999), Milwaukee (2000-01), Atlanta (2002-03), Minnesota (2004), the Cubs (2005-08), San Diego (2009), the New York Mets (2010), Arizona (2011-12), Toronto (2013) and Seattle (2013), finishing his career with a .223 batting average, 145 doubles, 72 home runs and 298 RBI.
The Cubs Thursday selected the contract of right-handed pitcher C.J. Edwards from Double-A Tennessee. Chicago’s 40-man roster now stands at 39 players.
Edwards, 23, is 14-7 with a 1.86 ERA (49 ER/237.0 IP) in 50 minor league outings (49 starts) covering the last three seasons. The right-hander has struck out 294 batters in 237.0 innings pitched, an average of 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings, and has allowed only two home runs, an average of roughly one per 119.0 innings pitched. Edwards has also turned in a 0.975 WHIP.
The Newbury, South Carolina, native was originally selected by Texas in the 48th Round of the 2011 Draft. He was acquired by the Cubs as part of the trade that sent Matt Garza to Texas in 2013 and went 2-0 with a 1.36 ERA (5 ER/33.0 IP) in eight starts with Daytona to help the club to the Florida State League Championship. Edwards was slowed by injury last season but returned to go 1-2 with a 2.44 ERA (13 ER/48.0 IP) in 10 starts with Tennessee and pitched in the Arizona Fall League, earning All-Star honors with a 1-0 record and a 1.80 ERA (3 ER/15.0 IP) in six starts.
(Photo by Brian Garfinkel/Getty)
The Cubs Sunday acquired infielder Tommy La Stella from the Atlanta Braves, as well as Atlanta’s number four international signing bonus slot, for right-handed pitcher Arodys Vizcaino and three international signing bonus slots (slot numbers two, three and four).
La Stella, 25, made his major league debut with the Braves last season and led National League rookies with 36 walks and a .328 on-base percentage (min. 300 plate appearances). In 93 games, he hit .251 (80-for-319) with 16 doubles, one home run and 31 RBI, and compiled a .984 fielding percentage (6 E/368 TC) 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.
The 5-foot, 11-inch, 185-pound La Stella was named the Braves ninth-best prospect by Baseball America heading into last season. He owns a .322 (326-for-1,013) batting average and a .407 on-base percentage in 288 career minor league games since he was selected by the Braves in the eighth round of the 2011 Draft. La Stella has 136 walks compared to 102 strikeouts in 1,197 minor league plate appearances.
In 2013, La Stella was named Double-A Mississippi’s Most Valuable Player after he led the team with a .343 batting average (97-for-283) and a .422 on-base percentage in 81 games. He recorded a franchise-record 23-game hitting streak, July 5-August 5, in which he batted .386 (34-for-88). Additionally, La Stella was named to the 2013 Arizona Fall League’s Top Prospects team after batting .290 (18-for-62) in 18 games with the Scottsdale Scorpions.
La Stella, a left-handed batter and right-handed fielder, was named a Carolina League midseason All-Star in 2012 with Single-A Lynchburg, a season in which he hit .397 in 23 games following the All-Star break. In 2011, his first pro season, he led Single-A Rome with a .328 batting average (76-for-232) in 63 games.
Vizcaino, 24, pitched in five September games for the Cubs last season and posted a 5.40 ERA (3 ER/5.0 IP) 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 for left-handed pitcher Paul Maholm and outfielder Reed Johnson on July 30, 2012.
It took all of about three minutes for Chicago sports fans to fall in love with new Cubs manager Joe Maddon. In his introductory press conference at the Cubby Bear, the spry and entertaining 60-year-old opened with a quick story about meeting Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer in his beloved RV (the Cousin Eddie) and closed by offering to buy the entire press conference a drink. On Monday, Maddon became the 54th manager in franchise history, when he agreed to terms on a five-year contract through the 2019 season.
A two-time AL Manager of the Year during his nine seasons with Tampa Bay (2006-14), Maddon joins the Cubs after guiding the Rays to four postseason appearances (2008, 2010-11, 2013), including the organization’s lone World Series appearance in 2008 when he earned his first Manager of the Year award. He earned the honor again in 2011.
Here’s a quick look at some of the highlights from Monday’s press conference.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
The Cubs and left-handed pitcher Tsuyoshi Wada came to terms on a deal for the 2015 season on Monday.
The 33-year-old Wada made 13 starts for the Cubs in his first major league action of his pro career. The southpaw went 4-4 with a 3.25 ERA in 69.1 innings. He signed a minor league deal with the Cubs last offseason and spent a majority of the season with Triple-A Iowa, where he went 10-6 with a 2.77 ERA (113.2 IP) in 19 appearances (18 starts) en route to earning Pacific Coast League All-Star honors. He received a call-up in late July and was part of the rotation for the remainder of the season.
Following a nine-year career with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in the Japan Pacific League, Wada signed a two-year major league deal with Baltimore in December of 2011. He suffered an elbow injury during Spring Training of 2012 that led to Tommy John ligament replacement surgery in May. He returned to action in June of 2013, and made 19 starts for Triple-A Norfolk that season, going 5-6 with a 4.03 ERA (46 ER/102.2 IP).
Wada went 107-61 with a 3.13 ERA (503 ER/1,444.2 IP) in 210 games, all but three as a starter, for Fukuoka from 2003-11, striking out 1,329 batters while walking just 395. He recorded 36 complete games, including eight shutouts, and was named the league’s Most Valuable Player in 2010, a season in which he was 17-8 with a 3.14 ERA (59 ER/169.1 IP) in 26 starts.