The Cubs wined Jon Lester. Sent his wife flowers. Even sent the avid hunter some camouflage hats with the Cubs logo.
“I’ve got the hat in my bag at the hotel,” the Cubs’ newest pitching said.
Team president Theo Epstein revealed he would have closed the biggest deal in franchise history in a deer stand if that’s what it would have taken. “I was prepared to soak myself in deer urine,” he said.
Turned out all it took was sincerity. Persistence. And a no-trade clause. And $155 million.
Now comes the hard part.
“I try not to believe in curses or superstitions,” Lester said during Monday’s introductory media event held at Spiaggio on Michigan Avenue. “We’ll do what we need to do. If we need to bring some goats around we will.”
Lester, who will be 31 when he opens the first season of his six-year deal, has two World Series titles with the Boston Red Sox. But he was in the minor leagues when Epstein’s Red Sox busted the 86-year-old Curse of the Bambino in 2004.
“That’s one of those things that you put at the top of the list. I wasn’t there in ’04, but I was obviously a part of the organization, and I got to see how it transformed the organization,” said Lester of a new expectation of winning top to bottom in the system.
“To part of something like that [in Chicago] I think would be truly special and truly unbelievable.”
The Cubs were in on Lester from the first day of free-agency, sending him a 15-minute video showing the Cubs’ plans, then were first in line to fete the three-time All-Star in a day’s worth of face-to-face meetings and presentations with top team officials.
Three increases in the offer along the way, including one at the outset of the winter meetings last week, helped close the deal, along with Epstein’s first career no-trade clause. The contract includes a record $30 million bonus, half payable up front.
Epstein said the deep background the front office had with Lester going back to his minor-league days in Boston, including first-hand knowledge of his MRI history over the years and his shoulder-maintenance routines, was factors in the willingness to take the “inherent risk” of giving a pitcher in his 30s a six-year contract.
Lester kept coming back to winning.
“I believed in the plan these guys had,” he said. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think they were going to win in 2015. … I don’t like to lose.”