Cubs give ‘Dear Jon’ treatment to Lester, the most important North Sider of ’em all

The Ricketts family is counting bags of peanuts now. Meanwhile, their baseball team is a shell of its former self.

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Jon Lester — the most important Cubs player ever?

Jon Lester — the most important Cubs player ever?

Justin Berl/Getty Images

Jon Lester had some words in mind for his critics last year, just before the pandemic took hold. He wasn’t fully ready to use the words yet, not with real oomph behind them. But he knew some thought he was washed up — or maybe on the razor’s edge of it — heading into his sixth season with the Cubs. And he knew his $25 million mutual option with the team for a Year 7 was unlikely to play out in his favor.

Lester didn’t care much about the money part, not after the Cubs had lavished him with a $155 million contract in the first place. What he really hoped for was to throw his final big-league pitch as a Cub before riding off into the sunset. Would he get the chance? Not knowing put him in an awkward position.

Anyway, he let the words slip out during a long, lazy conversation in Mesa, Arizona.

‘‘When I get done and sit back?’’ he said, reclining in a patio chair in a Cubs hoodie and shorts, his hands locked behind his bald head. ‘‘I’ll look back at what I accomplished in this game. Then maybe I can say: ‘Screw you guys. I think I did all right for myself.’ ’’

He did much better than that. It easily can be argued that Lester — who signed with the team as a free agent in December 2014, leading to a preposterously elusive World Series championship in 2016 — is the most important Cubs player in a century and more. And that might as well be ever.

But the Cubs have no use for him anymore.

Lester, 37, has landed in Washington, signing with the Nationals for $5 million with a mutual option for 2022. The Cubs could’ve had him for a song. Instead, the 193-victory left-hander will slot into an absurdly talented Nats rotation behind Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin and Stephen Strasburg and go after championship ring No. 4.

Would the romance of Wrigley Field really have topped that? It doesn’t matter anymore. The man isn’t done yet.

‘‘It’ll be up to me,’’ he said. ‘‘I’ll decide when I can’t do this anymore.’’

Lester was self-aware enough to know the last couple of years that his days as the Cubs’ ace were behind him. He was humble enough to be a cheerleader for Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks and a mentor to both of them and to anyone else who needed one. The stripped-down Cubs pitching staff of 2021 undoubtedly could have used a mentor such as Lester, but the rationale for keeping him apparently didn’t fit into ownership’s seal-the-vault-and-start-over plan.

So the Nats have him now. They have Kyle Schwarber, too. They’ve also traded for first baseman Josh Bell, another big-time addition for manager Davey Martinez, who was the Cubs’ bench coach during the 2016 title run. This is what a team trying to win the whole shebang looks like.

And then there are the Cubs. Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras and any other big-name players on the North Side might as well be wearing ‘‘Kick me’’ signs. That’s short for ‘‘Are you going to kick me to the curb, too?’’

The Ricketts family has pulled one Brink’s truck after another into the neighborhood to expand their fortune, yet they continue to cry poor. They’re counting bags of peanuts now. Meanwhile, their baseball team is a shell of its former self.

The Cubs are bad again. The Cubs are afterthoughts again. The Cubs are a drought-in-the-making again. Just deal with it, OK?

On the other side of town — oh, by the way — the White Sox are going for the jugular. The Sox are heavyweight contenders. The Cubs aren’t even pretenders. That can’t be a fun juxtaposition for Cubs fans.

‘‘Screw you guys’’?

That’s the message to Cubs fans. And it isn’t coming from Lester.

Just Sayin’

In 2003 and 2004, the University of California won 18 football games. It was the highest two-year total at the school since the great Pappy Waldorf was coaching the Bears to Rose Bowls in the late 1940s.

Guess who transferred to Cal from junior college in time for that 2003 season?

Aaron Rodgers, that’s who.

One player — correction, one quarterback — elevated the Bears from nobodies to contenders in what then was still the Pac-10.

In 2016 and 2017, Wyoming had its highest two-season victory total — 16 — since the 1990s. The Cowboys were led by the best quarterback in school history, Josh Allen. Just another example of how important the quarterback position is — at all levels of the sport, including the NFL.

You nail the quarterback spot, and you’ve got a chance to win big. Just look at the top three betting favorites to win the NFL’s MVP award this season: Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes and Allen. Tom Brady is high on the list, too. Gee, what do those guys have in common this week?

Your move, Bears. But isn’t it always?

• Packers 27, Buccaneers 24.

Mahomes-led Chiefs 34, Bills 30.

Bills 30, Chad Henne-led Chiefs 17.

Look, I’m just covering all the bases here.

• Bears quarterbacks vs. Blackhawks goalies:

Discuss.

Better yet, don’t.

•  New Sox closer Liam Hendriks described himself during a Zoom call with local media as an ‘‘egotistical narcissist’’ when on the mound.

I’m thinking if he really means it, he’ll have ‘‘Egotistical Narcissist’’ stitched across the back of his Sox jersey for Players’ Weekend.

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