The Cubs’ pursuit of free-agent prize Jon Lester took a brief backseat to the signing of a veteran right-hander Friday.
Ryan Dempster, who spent nine of his 16 Major-League seasons on the North Side, announced his retirement as a Cub and will join the team as a special assistant to president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer.
And maybe Dempster can lend a hand in landing Lester, too, his one-time teammate in Boston.
“Jon and I have talked about how great it is to play here,” Dempster said Friday. “And he knows that. He has an extremely tough decision ahead, but whatever the decision is – hopefully it’s here with the Chicago Cubs because he won’t be disappointed.
“The city of Chicago would embrace him. He’s just the type of person that could pitch here and do really well here and do well in the city. Hopefully we’re lucky enough to have him with us.”
Dempster, the two-time All-Star who won a World Series with the Red Sox in 2013, will spend time with the Cubs during spring training, visit minor league affiliates during the season and perform professional scouting assignments.
Dempster said the possible addition of Lester would pay even greater dividends off the field.
“Here I was a guy that played 16 years in the league and I’m supposed to be the veteran leader and I watch him and feel like I wasn’t doing enough,” Dempster said. “He’s a guy that if we could add him here he would just kind of step in front of everybody and all the young guys could watch and learn from him. He’s a tremendous pitcher, a tremendous human being and would be a great addition to any team.”
Lester went 16-11 with a 2.46 ERA in a 2014 season split between Boston and Oakland. He struck out 220 batters and walked 48.
The Cubs will have plenty of competition for him at next week’s Winter Meetings in San Diego.
The Red Sox, Giants and Dodgers are all reportedly in on the coveted left-hander. The Dodgers, in particular, have the financial wherewithal to outmuscle the Cubs from the bidding.
“We’re not the Dodgers, and we’re not the Yankees,” Epstein said of the Cubs’ financial strength, “but there are still plenty of things we can do. There are plenty of resources at our disposal and we’re a team with a healthy enough financial situation and young players that give us flexibility in the marketplace.”