Sep 30, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Jon Lester (31) throws a pitch against the Kansas City Royals during the first inning of the 2014 American League Wild Card playoff baseball game at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
When the Chicago Cubs agreed to terms with free agent pitcher Jon Lester on Tuesday night, as first reported by Ken Rosenthal via Twitter, they took another giant step toward contention. Beyond the Windy City, the deal figures to have far-reaching effects that will help the shape the rest of the free agent market and the complexion of Major League Baseball in 2015. Here on the Riverfront, Lester’s signing will impact the Cincinnati Reds in at least three major areas:
The Reds May Have to Reconsider Their Chances to Contend
Already a talented young team poised to contend for division titles over the next decade or so, the Cubs are starting to look like legitimate players in 2015. By bringing back Jason Hammel and signing Jon Lester, Chicago may have already jumped over the Reds in the NL Central pecking order, and it will be hard for Cincinnati to keep pace with just some tweaking here and there.
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The Reds will be rebuilding in a year anyway, so general manager Walt Jocketty needs to figure out if pulling off a big deal for one year of contention is worth the price he’ll pay in hanging on to players who might be at their peak trade value now. Getting younger and cheaper suddenly looks like a pretty good idea.
The Boston Red Sox Are Going to Be Hungry
Rumors involving the Reds and Red Sox have swirled for weeks, as the two teams seem to match up well: the Reds have pitching and need hitting, while the Sox have Yoenis Cespedes and need starters. Having lost out on Lester, Boston will be anxious to add arms through some other route.
While earlier proposed deals involved trading free-agents-to-be, it would not be surprising to see something more intricate develop between Boston and Cincinnati, with maybe even a third team jumping into the mix. Including ace Johnny Cueto in a deal could help the Reds kick-start the rebuild that lies ahead.
Extending Johnny Cueto Will Be Difficult
Speaking of Cueto, the Reds would like to extend him, according to Mark Sheldon at MLB.com. Always something of a longshot, a Cueto extension is made all the more difficult by the magnitude of Lester’s six-year, $155 million deal. Cueto does not have the track record of Lester, but he Reds’ righthander is two years younger and coming off a peak season. The Reds would probably have to at least match Lester’s deal to sign Cueto long-term at this point, and there is little chance that will happen given Cincinnati’s current payroll.
More than likely, Cueto will eventually land somewhere other than the Riverfront, and it could happen yet this winter.
Not only have the Chicago Cubs set themselves up for a run at the playoffs in 2015, but they have dramatically altered the way other teams must think about the upcoming season. For the Cincinnati Reds, it’s looking more and more like now is the time to start planning for the future.