Lester arrives early, emphasizes bonding like 'brothers'
Cubs ace preparing to lead deep rotation as club eyes postseason berth
MESA, Ariz. -- Jon Lester got a head start on getting to know his new Cubs teammates, arriving in Arizona last week to get settled in the desert for his first non-Florida Spring Training.
Pitchers and catchers don't have to report until Feb. 19, but Lester, the Cubs' biggest free-agent player signing this offseason, knows how important February and March will be. If the Cubs are going to contend, the players need to mesh as a unit, he said.
"Look at the Kansas City Royals -- they're a bunch of young guys who never won before and look where they ended up," Lester said of the American League champions. "They didn't win [the World Series], but they got there. They can use that experience now and have that confidence, and who knows where that takes them.
"Baseball's such a weird sport, where you have nine individuals playing for a team. And if those nine individuals pull the same direction on the same rope, then you're good. And that's all we're going to try to do, is come to Spring Training, mesh together and bond and become brothers and hopefully that takes us to the end, and if it doesn't, we'll keep busting our butt to get to that prize."
How does the Cubs rotation look for 2014? Here's a quick breakdown:
Lester, Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel, Kyle Hendricks, Travis Wood, Edwin Jackson, Tsuyoshi Wada, Jacob Turner and Felix Doubront.
The Cubs had seven pitchers make at least 13 starts apiece, tying a franchise mark set in 1907 and matched in 1941, 1984 and 1991. For the year, the Cubs used 13 starters, the most in a single season since 2006 (15). Chicago starters led the Majors in fewest home runs allowed (80). Arrieta was third in the National League in batting average against (.203). Lester ranked fourth in the AL with a 2.46 ERA.
New guys in 2015:
Lester is the only new face to the rotation, and also new to the NL. The lefty has a career 15-7 record and 3.06 ERA in 29 starts vs. NL squads. Will it be a tough transition? "For me pitching is pitching, regardless if it's NL or AL," Lester said when he signed. "I still have to do the right things to get outs."
The Cubs have depth, which is one of the reasons they didn't go over budget in pursuing free-agent righty James Shields, who agreed to a four-year deal with the Padres on Sunday night. According to CBSSports.com, the Cubs offered Shields a three-year deal with a vesting option late in the negotiation process. The Cubs had already spent $175 million on starting pitching ($155 million for Lester, $20 million for Hammel).
The big question this spring is what to do with Jackson. He finished last season in the bullpen, making one appearance. He's expected to be starting this spring. Manager Joe Maddon has some history with the right-hander; Jackson pitched for the Rays from 2006-08, and was a reliever in his first season there. He'll be matched up again with catcher Miguel Montero, who was behind the plate for Jackson's no-hitter on June 25, 2010. In a January interview, Montero said Jackson has "a really good arm and really good potential to be a Cy Young." He's got a long way to go. Jackson is 14-33 with a 5.58 ERA over two seasons with the Cubs.