When it comes to what left-hander Jon Lester has brought to the Cubs in his six seasons with them, the list is pretty long. He helped them change their culture from one known for losing to one that expects to win every season.
After signing with the Cubs in December 2014, Lester not only took on the role of staff ace, but he also mentored several young players who came up during the team’s rise to prominence.
His legacy with the Cubs was solidified as one of the leaders on their historic 2016 World Series title team, and what he leaves in the clubhouse won’t be forgotten.
‘‘If this is it here, this is it,’’ said Lester, who likely will become a free agent after the postseason. ‘‘I have to move on with it. The organization will definitely move on. I mean, you see it over the years, if somebody leaves or goes down, you fill it in with another person.’’
The Cubs aren’t expected to pick up their $25 million option on Lester’s contract for next season, but he remains hopeful the parties can make something happen.
‘‘I definitely appreciate everything that this organization has done for me,’’ said Lester, who is 77-44 with a 3.64 ERA in his tenure with the Cubs. ‘‘I hope it’s not [the end here] and that we can figure something out for next year.’’
Baseball is a business, but it’s no secret how much Lester has meant to the Cubs. You can tell in how they speak about him that he has made an impact.
‘‘Jon’s meant a lot to me since I came up in ,’’ left fielder Kyle Schwarber said. ‘‘The guy just took me under his wing and was able to show me what it’s like to be a professional baseball player.
‘‘[He showed me] how to act on the field, how to act off the field, how to compete, how to never quit. You see his charitable contributions off the field. [He’s] a great family man, things like that. You know, those are things that I always look up to Jon [for].’’
After the Cubs’ 2-0 loss Friday to the Marlins that ended their season, right-hander Yu Darvish said that his goal was to get Lester one more start at Wrigley Field and that he was disappointed he couldn’t deliver.
One player who might have benefitted most from being around Lester is catcher Willson Contreras. It’s not easy to catch someone who has accomplished as much in the game as Lester, but that’s what the Cubs asked Contreras to do after David Ross retired after the World Series run. The relationship has grown in the last four seasons, and only Ross has caught Lester for more innings than Contreras.
‘‘Man, Willie’s really grown up a lot,’’ Lester said. ‘‘I think people forget he started catching [after being an infielder]. Rossy pretty much caught me his whole life, so he’s been back there a long time. . . . [Contreras] converted to a position he’d never played, and then he skyrocketed to the big leagues. You expect him to catch World Series games, catch games in a postseason chase. . . . It’s hard to do.”
‘‘It means a lot [catching Lester],’’ Contreras said. ‘‘We created a good relationship on the field. We were honest with each other, and I think [being honest] helped build that trust.
‘‘He helped me grow a lot on the field and off the field, the way he acts and prepares himself. I’m always going to be proud of being Lester’s catcher.’’