The Chicago Cubs have declined Jon Lester's mutual option for the upcoming season. Lester was due to receive $25 million in 2021. Instead, he will become a free-agent.
This move was always expected, as Lester significantly regressed during the past year and a half. Lester had a sub-par year in 2020, going 3-3 in 12 starts with a 5.16 ERA, a career-worst.
He also struck out a career-low 6.2 batters per nine innings in 2020, in addition to posting the two worst WHIP numbers of his career the past two seasons. The most glaring stat, however, is his WAR, which went below zero for the first time in his career (-0.2).
Despite his declining performance the past 18 months, Lester has proven to be one of the best free-agent signings the Cubs have ever made. In all, Lester went 77-44 with a 3.64 ERA and 13.2 WAR during his six years with the Cubs. Ironically, that is the same winning percentage and ERA he had during his nine years with the Red Sox.
Lester won an additional three games for the Cubs during the postseason, posting a 2.44 ERA and helping the Cubs to a 2016 World Series championship.
While Lester's original contract with the Cubs is now officially ripped up, this may not be the end for Lester in blue pinstripes. The Cubs may entertain making another offer to Lester, albeit at a reduced price and on a shorter deal. What that price will be is anyone's guess, especially with the uncertain financial times brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
I'm assuming there will be at least one team that will offer Lester more money than the Cubs will, so it may come down to Lester's desire to stay on the North Side at a reduced price.
That all remains to be seen, but for now, let's all appreciate the leadership, competitiveness, and winning mentality this three-time World Series champion brought to the Friendly Confines for six seasons.