Maybe Back to the Future II had it right. The 1989 sci-fi comedy classic predicted the Chicago Cubs would beat a Miami franchise in the 2015 World Series.
Barring some very strange unforeseen circumstances indeed - Miami and Chicago will not play each other in the Series as they are both NL teams. But with the huge deal the Cubbies just concluded, you cannot rule Chicago out.
The Cubs just signed former Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics lefty ace Jon Lester, who already has two World Series rings, to lead the club to its first playoff appearance in seven years.
After days of deliberation, Lester, 30, announced his six-year $155 million contract with the Cubs. The Red Sox and San Francisco Giants had negotiated with the lefty pitcher but ultimately Lester’s close ties to Theo Epstein, the Cubs President of Baseball Operations and former Red Sox GM, clinched the deal.
Lester is coming off the best season of his eight-year career, going 16-11 with a 2.46 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP, while splitting time between the Red Sox and Oakland A’s in 2014. Lester will anchor a rotation with fellow veterans Jake Arietta and Jason Hammel.
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With new manager, former Tampa Bay Rays skipper Joe Maddon at the helm and a collection of highly touted young hitters like second baseman Javier Baez, third baseman Chris Bryant, slugging infielder Mike Olt, shortstop Starlin Castro, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, and right fielder Jorge Soler, many believe the Cubs are poised to make a serious playoff run and even contend for a World Series title. This will be a big leap forward for the Cubs, as they finished dead last in the NL Central last season.
Others believe that the Cubs will be serious contenders soon, but not in 2015. Rob Neyer of FOX Sports’ Just A Bit Outside blog explains that the talent is certainly there, but it will take them time to gel because Chicago has so many young players. Last season the Cubs finished 12th in the National League in scoring, due in large part to a lowly .300 team on-base percentage. Learning how to take a pitch is a skill that the young players must learn to be contenders.
Lots to offer
With Lester, the Cubs get a pitcher to replace their former ace Jeff Samardjiza, whom Chicago traded to Lester’s A’s in July. Samardjiza and Jason Hammel pitched a combined 216 2/3 innings with a 3.14 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP, a pitcher’s ERA after taking defense out of the equation) before both were shipped off to Oakland. Hammel recently re-signed with the North-siders for a two-year $20 million contract and should be a key part of the Cubs rotation with Lester.
With newly acquired catcher Miguel Montero, who was traded from Arizona in return for two minor league pitchers the Cubs should be on their way. Montero was one of the top catchers in all of baseball at getting an extra strike through pitch framing, finishing eighth out of 100 starting catchers in 2014. With young starters such as Kyle Hendricks and Jacob Turner, Montero’s pitch-framing ability should work wonders.
The signing of Jon Lester and hiring of Joe Maddon signifies the start of a new era for the Cubs. Expect the Cubs to be in contention for a wild card spot and possibly even a division title. But they aren’t ready to break the curse just yet.