Jon Lester's new employers

Signing of Jon Lester changes perception of Chicago Cubs

Well, the Chicago Cubs did it. They landed their big free agent fish in signing Jon Lester to a six-year, $155 million contract, prying him away from pursuing contenders in Boston and San Francisco. Though the deal is only a couple of days old, and not even official from the organizational standpoint, the reactions from around the baseball world have been quite interesting.

In signing their biggest free agent since Alfonso Soriano (sad*), the Cubs are beginning to see the perception towards the organization begin to change. Of course, there’s obviously the traditional “hope he enjoys losing” and “they’re still the Cubs” talk that will plague the franchise until they hoist the commissioner’s trophy. However, this particular idea about the state of the Cubs could not be more off base.

Coming into the offseason, the Cubs had a top farm system, which some would label as historically great, to hang their hat on. The 2014 season saw the debuts of Arismendy AlcantaraJavier Baez, and Jorge Soler, while Anthony Rizzo and Jake Arrieta showcased breakout seasons. With more on the way, including Kris Bryant and Addison Russell, among plenty of others, that alone was enough to have the Cubs’ stock pointing up for the future. However, even with that in mind, the perception of the average fan may not have been shifted enough to change opinions about where this organization is headed.

Then came Andrew Friedman‘s departure to Los Angeles. As a result, Joe Maddon became available. The front office regime of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer was absolutely shrewd in cutting lose first year manager Rick Renteria, who was heading into his second year, in order to reign him in. For the Cubs, it was a step in the right direction towards their ultimate goal of turning this organization around. After years of signing free agents only to flip them and focusing solely on player development, it showed that this organization is completely committed to winning.

This week, the Winter Meetings took place in San Diego. With much of the baseball world already buzzing about what the Cubs could do, the Chicago White Sox stole the show early. The Cubs countered in a couple of different ways.

First, they went out and acquired Miguel Montero. It solidified their situation behind the plate and added a solid left-handed bat. But folks continued to wait for the big move. They waited and waited, until the morning hours of Wednesday, still Tuesday on the West Coast. Word came down that Jon Lester was set to sign a massive six-year contract with the Chicago Cubs. Just like that, the perception of what this organization is and what it is going to be shifted completely.

No longer were these your parents’, or your grandparents’, or your great-grandparents’ lovable losers. This is a team that has the savvy in the front office, and the gall, to perform the types of personnel moves that they want. They acquired a top tier manager and then went out and outbid a pair of World Series contenders in order to land the ace they so coveted. This is a team to be reckoned with, and with the strong foundation now in place and significant new additions finally coming, this is what fans on the North Side have been waiting for.

That’s not to say that they’re title contenders, regardless of what the betting odds might indicate. This is still an extremely young team that has a bit of a ways to go in their development, in addition to a couple of other moves, before we can put them in that type of category. In all likelihood, they’re a playoff contender next year, and perhaps  .500 team at worse next year. Teams, writers, and fans around the league are beginning to take serious note of what this organization is doing (which has led to a massive influx of Back to the Future II references).

(*Sidenote: Stop talking about Back to the Future II. The Back to the Future saga is right there with Star Wars as my personal favorite, and the first one stands as my favorite film of all-time. Yes, the Cubs were “predicted” to win the World Series in 2015, but they’re not going to do so and they’re sure as hell not going to do it against Miami, for obvious reasons. Continuing to mention it takes away from the overall magic of the saga.)

The bottom line is this: regardless of where you stand in your loyalties around the league, it is impossible to not recognize that what the Cubs are doing has put them in the best position possible, and it’s the one that Epstein and Hoyer envisioned when they took over the franchise. They have a top tier farm system, with multiple blue chip prospects on the cusp of breaking into the bigs. They have an experienced ace who has won multiple titles to couple with Arrieta at the top of their rotation. They have a manager that many would consider the best in baseball. Oh yeah, Epstein and Hoyer are still calling the shots as well.

The ‘Lovable Losers’ tag is gone. This team is experiencing a renaissance, and with Theo at the helm, the future has never been brighter.

*The sad reference to Alfonso Soriano doesn’t relate to his performance. It was an unfortunate situation for him, as the team failed to live up to expectations, and fans felt that he did as well, despite numbers to the contrary. But that’s a post for another day.

About Randy Holt

Spending his days as an English teacher, Randy spends his afternoons, nights, and weekends as a writer on the Bloguin Network, as well as SB Nation. He is a staff writer for both Puck Drunk Love and The Outside corner, as well as Second City Hockey and Beyond the Box Score on SB Nation, showcasing his love for both hockey and baseball, as well as run-on sentences. A Chicago native (and Phoenix resident), he is an avid Game of Thrones viewer/reader and lover of red meat.