The Chicago Cubs wanted Jon Lester. They really, really wanted Jon Lester.
In addition to the previously-discussed massive signing bonus* that his deal includes (which, because of the time value of money, is always a nice incentive to offer a player), Jayson Stark is reporting that Lester is getting a full no-trade clause. That is pretty significant, because this front office has generally been opposed to giving them out. Obviously, given Lester’s stance that he was choosing where he would be most comfortable, the no-trade clause was probably very important to him. Further, he would have had 10/5 no-trade rights by that 6th year anyway (which is when you’re usually looking to dump big contracts).
Still. This is a big deal, if Stark’s report is accurate, because now the front office cannot go into other negotiations saying, “We love you, we almost certainly won’t trade you, but we simply cannot give you a no-trade clause. It’s not something we do for anyone.” It’s just something to consider, setting aside Lester, specifically. As to Lester, maybe the no-trade clause means very little to the Cubs, because I expect they don’t enter into this deal with any intention at all that he’ll be dealt in the future. I suppose that’s usually true in these long-term deals, though. You don’t divorce the same person you marry, and all that.
With respect to the vesting option in the 7th year, Stark reports that it vests if Lester pitches 200 innings in 2020, the final year of the deal, or a combined 400 innings in 2019 and 2020 – a pretty standard vesting clause to ensure health. The option is worth $25 million with a $10 million buyout, so the rest of the years in the deal must not quite be $25 million per year, given the overall 6/$155M guarantee.
It’s a great deal for Lester, overall, and it’s what he earned by way of his performance and durability and projection. You can dislike the contract from a valuation standpoint – and you can dislike the no-trade clause – but it took what it took to get it done. And the deal means good things are on the way.
*(The gist of that signing bonus, if you don’t want to click away for the full discussion:
Jon Lester's option vests with 200 IP in sixth year or 400 total in the fifth and sixth. Signing bonus $20M upfront, $10M more spread out.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 10, 2014