By , Dieter Kurtenbach
Published January 30, 2017
Theo Epstein wanted Jon Lester on his team again.
He wanted him bad.
Lester was one of the top free agents following the 2014 season -- which made him desirable enough -- but it was Epstein's first-hand experience with the lefty that made the Cubs president, following his second season in Chicago, so determined to land him.
Epstein knew what Lester represented. He knew that he wanted -- perhaps even needed -- that on the team he was trying to take to the World Series.
Jon Lester is a winner -- in the biggest moments, when the odds are most stacked against him, Lester comes through.
Epstein -- armed with some foul language, a San Diego hotel room, a bottle of Jägermeister, an MLB: The Show clip of the Cubs winning the World Series, and $155 million -- got his man.
The Cubs are now one win away from heading to the World Series.
Those two facts are absolutely connected.
There are a lot of winners in Major League Baseball, but there is only one Lester.
He took on cancer in 2006 and won. The next year, he won the clinching game of the World Series in his first ever postseason start. In 2008, he started the playoffs with back-to-back seven-inning, no-run outings, en route to a hard-luck 2.36 ERA in four starts. In the 2013 postseason -- five starts, 1.56 ERA.
Epstein knew how hard it would be to win the World Series in Chicago -- he had built the team that broke the curse of the Bambino in Boston. You need a pitcher like Lester -- someone you can hand the ball to, no matter the circumstance, and expect a win.
The Cubs handed the ball to Lester Thursday night in a pivotal, critical Game 5. He did exactly what was expected -- allowing one run on five hits with six strikeouts in seven innings.
If you wanted to split hairs, the run might not have been earned.
An enterprising sabermetrician will probably find the error in the sentence -- surely there's a cheap option out there that has performed well above his pay grade -- but Lester is, hands down the best $155 million the Cubs have ever spent.
One man cannot take a team to the World Series, but what value can you put on a player who has done it before, wants the ball in the biggest situation, and comes through time and time again? Some guys lead by example, some guys lead with conversations in the locker room -- Lester does both as well as any player in the game.
The Ricketts family buying the Cubs signaled a big change, hiring Epstein furthered that notion, and hiring Joe Maddon to manage the team set a strong foundation, but signing Lester -- the winner -- brought the culture change: the thing the Cubs really needed.
Jon Lester isn't going to be a Lovable Loser -- no sir.
The Cubs have spent a lot of money on free agents over the years -- Andre Dawson, Alfonso Soriano, Jason Heyward -- and why not? They had and will continue to have cash to burn. But can any of them boast being a major part of reversing the curse?
With one more, and perhaps four more, that's what Jon Lester will be able to say. And while you can count the revenue of hats and t-shirts and commemorative programs and tickets, you can't put a value on 71 or 108 years of heartbreak.
This much is easy to say, though: in Chicago, it's worth more than $155 million.