John Lackey to return to Cubs in 2018? ‘Never say never’

 

MESA, Ariz. – Is it possible the Cubs could replace John Lackey next year with … John Lackey?

The veteran right-hander is in the final year of a two-year contract and hasn’t ruled out retirement after the season. But after a five-inning exhibition start against Japan’s World Baseball Classic team on Saturday, he suggested he’ll look for a place to pitch next year – maybe even back with the Cubs.

“A couple years might be a stretch,” Lackey, 38, said when asked if he wanted to return after this season. “We’ll see. I’m just going to pitch this season. At this point I think I’m more likely to pitch next year than not pitch, but we’ll see at the end of the season.”

Another round for John Lackey?

If Lackey finishes the season healthy and with results anything close to last year (11-8, 3.35 ERA), he could become an attractive option for easing the transition for a rotation that’s almost certain to lose 2015 Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta to free agency.

“Never say never,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “This guy’s been defying Father Time for a while.”

Since returning from Tommy John surgery in 2013, Lackey is 48-41 with a 3.35 ERA, averaging 31 starts and 198 1/3 innings a year – and winning two championships with two different teams.

“His work ethic is fantastic,” Hoyer said. “I think he’s probably deciding [whether to pitch next year]. It’s not a decision you make right now.

But certainly we love having him,” he added. “His edge, his swagger is fantastic for our team, and we’re certainly glad we signed him last winter.”