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Lester doesn’t make Cubs automatic contenders, but it’s a hell of a start

An actual player. A big-time, winning pitcher. A dominant left-hander, for goodness’ sake.

Not a hotshot prospect. Not a new manager. Not a shiny new brick.

A Somebody.

A Cub.

The franchise ever in search of a World Series title has nabbed free-agent pitcher Jon Lester with a six-year, $155 million contract, $20 million more than the Boston Red Sox offered over the same number of years.

I’m sure a lot of things whispered to Lester — the chance to bring a championship to the North Side, the chance to play for new skipper Joe Maddon, the chance to play at new-look Wrigley Field — but money always seems to get in the last word, doesn’t it?

Good for Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer for getting their man. Good for the Ricketts family for opening its wallet and finally spending big bucks on someone of substance. And very, very good for Cubs fans, who, besides waiting for a World Series title since 1908, had waited patiently the last three awful seasons for some indication the club wanted to act like a big-market franchise.

That finally happened Tuesday night, when the news gushed out of the winter meetings in San Diego that the Cubs had won the Lester sweepstakes over the Red Sox, his former team, San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers.

This one is huge because a player of many accomplishments finally believed in what Epstein, the Cubs’ president of baseball operations, was selling. Whether that was an exciting future or hard cash doesn’t really matter now. Nor does it matter whether the Cubs overpaid for Lester or mortgaged some of their future on a soon-to-be 31-year-old pitcher. All that matters is that Lester is here.

Besides his pitching ability, especially in the postseason, he immediately adds weight to the Cubs’ talk about being a contender. And what that means, more than words, is that other players might want to come to Chicago. Maddon could have that effect, but Lester more so. Good players want to play with other good players. Good players want to win.

It is so refreshing to actually be talking about real moves, rather than dreams and grand plans. Action not discussion. We’ve had three years of chatter. Hell, we’ve had 106 years of it.

Does the Lester signing mean that the Cubs are a playoff team in 2015? Not necessarily. We still have no idea how the young prospects will fare in the big leagues. There are no guarantees that Javy Baez, Jorge Soler, Albert Almora and Kris Bryant, among others, will become every-day ballplayers.

But, man, is this a start.

“It definitely sends that message about how [Epstein] and the group feel about this particular group, but understand we have a lot of young players that have to grow up, and we have to do a good job of nurturing that and making it happen,” Maddon said. “It’s possible [the Cubs contend soon], but having Jon there definitely adds to the flavor and the believability.”

Lester is coming off his best season in terms of ERA, a combined 2.46 between the Red Sox and Oakland Athletics. Not having to face a designated hitter in the National League should only help. His postseason ERA is 2.57. In the World Series, he is 3-0 with a ridiculous 0.43 ERA. Wouldn’t it be nice if Chicago got the chance to see him enhance those numbers in the coming years?

Epstein and Hoyer, the Cubs’ general manager, double-teamed Lester. They were all with the Boston organization when the Red Sox won two World Series. Heartstrings and purse strings were pulled.

“It’s not often you get to win the lottery,” Maddon said. “We won the baseball lottery so far this year, but now it’s up to us to put it into effect. It’s all theory right now. We’ve got to make it real, but you need pieces like this to make it real.”

The Cubs also have added two-time All-Star catcher Miguel Montero via a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks. He still has $40 million left on his contract. But, hey, it’s just money. See how far this franchise has come in a few days? All the way from small-market Palookaville to big-market Chicago. There is always the caveat that these are the Cubs and that bad things happen, but that’s for another day. Not today.

These are heady times for the city’s baseball fans. The White Sox traded for ex-Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija and signed former New York Yankees closer David Robertson. And now the Cubs get Lester.

This could get interesting. Finally.