Jon Lester wanted to keep pitching in Chicago. He was reportedly even willing to take club-friendly deal to stay with the Cubs, but there wasn’t a deal to be made with the team which signed him to a 6-year/$155M free agent contract in 2014. Lester and the Cubs went to the postseason in his first year in the Windy City in 2015, and he helped the franchise end their 108-year drought when they won the World Series in 2016.
But after six seasons in a Cubs uniform in which he was (77-44) in 171 starts, with a 3.64 ERA, a 3.86 FIP, 292 walks, and 940 Ks in 1,002 2⁄3 innings pitched, he saw the writing on the wall.
“All of our conversations were great,” Lester said of the talks with the Cubs this past winter, before he signed a 1-year/$5M free agent deal with the Washington Nationals.
“There was not a negative conversation in there. You kind of reach a point where sometimes you just need to move on.”
Finishing his time with the Cubbies playing in an empty Wrigley Field wasn’t the ideal way to wrap up his tenure with the team, but he’s going to be back in the friendly confines Monday to start the series opener between his new and old teams.
Lester said he’s been looking forward to this series since he signed with the Nationals.
“I knew as soon as I signed and saw the schedule,” the 37-year-old southpaw explained.
“You pick out certain road trips that are always fun, and obviously that was one that stuck out for me for a lot of different reasons.
“I look forward to it, look forward to getting back there. I’m glad that fans are in the stands, which is awesome, just around baseball, around sports in general.
“It will be nice to get back and kind of nice to pitch Monday and kind of get it out of the way and that way I can just enjoy being in Chicago again.”
Before his six seasons with the Cubs, Lester spent nine seasons in Boston, with the Red Sox who drafted him in the 2nd Round in 2002, but he hasn’t returned to Fenway Park since the final start as part of the Sox’ rotation.
“Kind of the same deal,” Lester said. “I didn’t really get to leave there the way I wanted to, in front of the fans, walking off the mound as kind of my last start. It would have been nice, but it was also nice just to go back and not really have to worry about all that hoopla as well.”
His return to Wrigley will likely be greeted with a good amount of hoopla, or fanfare, though he said he doesn’t know what to expect. Lester said he’s looking forward to seeing all of his old teammates and friends around the park.
“I don’t know what to expect,” Lester said. “I’m not really expecting anything. I’m expecting to go back and hopefully pitch well, and like I said, see the guys that I got to build relationships with over the last six years and really looking forward to that. A lot of guys you don’t talk to a lot so it will be nice to see those guys.”
“I’m excited to get back there, it’s a cool and special place.”
Is he expecting some sort of closure with the Cubs and their fans, who were missing from the equation in 2020’s fan-free COVID campaign?
“Like I said, I think Wrigley is so unique, and to kind of end there last year with no fans, it will be nice to go back and see that,” he said.
“I’m looking forward to that. Like I said, it’s such a unique place and I’m excited to get back on that mound.”
Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez, who was the bench coach in Chicago from 2015-2017, before he got his first managerial gig in D.C., said it will be special for all of the one-time Cubs to return to Wrigley.
Returning to a former team is something that’s always special for big leaguers.
“It’s awesome,” Martinez said. “Especially because of the success they had in their former cities. It’s going to be fun to watch [Lester] go out there and get to pitch in front of the Cubs fans. He’s excited about it. I know Kyle Schwarber is excited about going back as well.
“I got ties in Chicago, so it’s a good place, we’re looking forward to it, and we want to go 1-0 when we get there, so ... for Jon Lester, it’s going to be a moment, and it’s going to be fun.”