When the Cubs signed left-hander Jon Lester to a six-year, $155 million contract in December 2014, they banked on him being the piece to take them from a team on the rise to a true National League contender. At the same time, they hoped their deep pool of prospects would learn how to win and become stars.
The Cubs have gotten what they wanted from Lester and many of their young players, making three consecutive appearances in the National League Championship Series and winning the 2016 World Series. On Sunday, there was more affirmation as Lester, second baseman Javy Baez and catcher Willson Contreras were named NL All-Stars to give the Cubs 10 selections over the last three seasons.
Baez and Contreras came from behind in the final days of fan voting to earn their first appearances and win starting spots in the game July 17 in Washington.
“The two of them, as young men getting this first opportunity, I cannot be more thrilled, and it definitely is going to give me a reason to watch the game on Tuesday night,” manager Joe Maddon said after the Cubs’ 6-5, 10-inning victory over the Reds. “And I will.”
Baez has blossomed into one of baseball’s most dynamic and exciting figures, becoming a fan favorite at Wrigley Field and evolving from a wild presence to a more controlled player. That continued Sunday, when Baez had two hits and drove in two runs in the seventh inning to give the Cubs a 5-4 lead and draw more chants of “Javy! Javy! Javy!” from the crowd.
Baez, who would seem like an obvious candidate to compete in the Home Run Derby, sounded like a player who still could offer more down the stretch.
“I think I get loose, or I warm up [well] in the second half,” said Baez, who in 2011 was Jim Hendry’s final first-round selection. “Hopefully, I keep doing what I’m doing and seeing the ball good.”
Contreras has emerged as one of the top catchers in the league and, to Maddon, the best in baseball. He also has developed a bond with Lester, who was famous for his connection with David Ross.
Lester said it was gratifying to see Contreras earn his first All-Star nod.
“I know our relationship has grown a lot over the last couple of years, and I know the whole Rossy thing is kind of always in the back of his mind, I’m sure, every time we take the ball,” Lester said. “It’s nice for him to get rewarded for his hard work and what he’s done.”
The gravity of what Contreras has done hit him when he was informed he made the All-Star Game.
“My first reaction was like, ‘I have no words to say,’ but I started crying when I went down to the cage because I hoped for it and I’ve been working hard every single game that I’ve played and played it like it was my last one,” Contreras said.
Lester will make his fifth appearance and second for the Cubs. Getting voted in by his peers was meaningful for Lester, who is 11-2 with a 2.45 ERA and could be a candidate to start the game.
And being 34, Lester was savoring another chance to be honored.
“I’ll take it as it comes,” said -Lester, who hoped there was a way for Albert Almora Jr. to earn a nod. “It’s dwindling down as far as time and all that stuff, so I’ll take as many as I can.”