Did you hear it? The unmistakable click-clacking of a large group of men in cleats – perhaps a full baseball team in size – just now turning the corner. It’s distant, but I hear it. They’re coming.
In the wee hours of the morning, word broke that the Chicago Cubs would be signing lefty ace Jon Lester. The Cubs had beaten out the Red Sox and their unending supply of cachet. The Cubs had beaten out the Giants and their unending supply of World Series titles. The Cubs had beaten out the Dodgers and their supply of money.
The Cubs targeted an elite free agent, presented a compelling offer and opportunity, and convinced him to come on board for the ride. This, my friends, is a very good day.
To be sure, the deal itself is huge – the largest in franchise history, at six years and $155 million with a vesting option for a seventh year (the precise contract that I said would be the highest about which I could be happy) – and it’s probably an overpay by various valuation metrics. But we all know that in today’s free agency era, “overpaying” is really the only way to get the guy you want. The Cubs wanted Lester, I wanted Lester, and now he’s a Chicago Cub. We can save the contract dissection for another day.
Heck, we can save the performance projecting and analysis for another day, too. Because there are at least two reasons that Cubs fans should be extremely happy about this deal completely irrespective of how they feel about Lester, specifically, or even if they think the Cubs paid too much:
(1) This front office does not sign a guy to a deal that will pay him an AAV over $25 million for the next six years if they believe payroll is going to be stuck at $100 million for the foreseeable future. It would be unconscionably reckless to devote such a large chunk of the team’s payroll to one player, and, indeed, prevailing wisdom holds that having any one player at 20% or more of the payroll is deadly. At 20% of payroll and $25 million per year, the Cubs’ payroll would have to be $125 million – so, going forward, you’re looking for a figure north of that. Perhaps as soon as 2015.
I know that many of you were in the “show me” stage of believing that the money was coming, but this is why I always focused so intently on the business side of the Cubs’ operations. The revenues they are creating and enhancing absolutely will wind up as available dollars to the baseball side. Knowing the responsible and conservative nature of this front office, this contract – this single, gigantic contract – is proof that they believe the big money is coming, and sooner rather than later. I think it’s completely realistic to say that we’ll probably see the Cubs hit a payroll of $120 million in 2015, and only climb from there.
(2) A related, but distinct reason for happiness in the wake of this deal: the Cubs will continue adding for 2015. That’s not the impatience of fandom speaking; it’s just the nature of these kinds of giant contracts, and the reality of aging. When you have the best remaining years of an ace like Jon Lester in the next few, you’re not going to waste one of them sitting idly by and crossing your fingers that all of your young bats break through (and you might not even like having to hope that one of your many fringe-starter arms breaks through to win the 5th starter gig).
With Lester in the fold, and with prospect currency yet to spend, I think you will see the Cubs seriously involved in trade discussions to try and add a significant bat to the team for 2015. Ken Rosenthal has already reported as much, but it’s a concept we’ve touched upon before, and it’s nothing new. The only thing new is that now the Cubs really do have Lester. (You know, in addition to that Maddon guy, that Rizzo guy, that Castro guy, that Arrieta guy, all those awesome youngsters, that new Montero guy, that new(ish) Hammel guy …. )
There’s work yet to come, and even now, I agree with what Theo Epstein has said for some weeks now: this is not the peak. The Cubs can and will compete in 2015, but the best is yet to come.
But, man, it’s coming.