MESA, Ariz. – He had a right to feel angry. Maybe even betrayed.
But when Jon Lester saw the Boston Red Sox pursue David Price so much more aggressively this winter than they did their own, homegrown ace a year earlier, what was his response?
After Price signed a record $217 million deal, Lester texted the former division rival and All-Star teammate: “Congratulations. You’re going to love it. If you need anything, I still know a lot of people up there.”
A year earlier, the Red Sox were unwilling to make a final offer within $20 million of the six-year, $155 million deal Lester ultimately accepted from the Cubs – this after a lowball offer the previous spring that soured early negotiations. They eventually traded Lester, a player who places an especially high value on home, family and comfort zone – uprooting him from a place that represented all those things to him.
That was part of the appeal with the Cubs, essentially the second-best comfort zone to him because of the familiar front office run by ex-Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein.
“Everybody has emotions and feelings and loyalty towards certain organizations, and obviously that one is special and unique to me,” said Lester, a second-round pick of the Sox in 2002, who survived a 2006 cancer diagnosis and lengthy treatment to eventually pitch in two World Series for the team. “I’ll always hold those things high in my career and obviously personally with my family. Both my kids were born there.
“There’s no hard feelings by any means with those people. I still talk to [Red Sox manager] John Farrell. They were a big part of my life. And I’m always grateful for what they did for me, especially back in ’06, ’07.”
And no hard feelings with ownership, he said – “and definitely no hard feelings between me and David. I was more than excited for him to get that deal.”
Lester at one point this offseason talked to Price about signing with the Cubs, he said, before the Cubs dropped out of the megadeal end of the pitching market.
Lester shrugs off the whole change since his dealings with the Sox to the business of baseball.
And who knows how the organizational philosophy on spending under the new head of baseball operations (Dave Dombrowski) since Lester’s free agent year (Ben Cherington)? Or whether Boston’s last-place finish in 2015 changed anyone’s thinking?
If anything, the events over the past 15 months in both cities only seems to make Lester more confident he made the right choice to be in the right place at the right time.
“Things happen for a reason,” said the Opening Day starter on the Cubs’ first playoff team in seven years in his first season as a Cub.
It doesn’t hurt Lester’s sense of comfort that the Cubs haven’t stopped shape-shifting into Red Sox form since Epstein brought former inner-circle executives Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod with him from Boston. And they’ve continued to bring Boston to Lester by signing his former Red Sox personal catcher, David Ross, and since then adding former Sox teammate Lackey and former Sox scouting exec Jared Porter.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of familiarity with me because it seems like every day they hire somebody new from Boston,” he said. “There’s a ton of faces that I know and basically grew up with.”
More than familiarity has been trust. And it’s been rewarded, Lester said.
“The game plan that Theo laid out for these young guys and for the free agents they were going to go after just really, really unfolded and came to fruition,” Lester said, adding how unusual it was to see free agents Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist and John Lackey all turn down bigger offers to sign with the Cubs.
“This is definitely the place to be in baseball right now. And we’re more than thrilled with the decision we made after living in Chicago for a year and being part of this organization.”