In December of 2014, the Chicago Cubs made a franchise-changing move by signing free-agent star pitcher Jon Lester to a six-year, $155 million contract. The Cubs went on to win 97 games in year one of Lester’s deal, and of course followed that up with a 103-win, championship-winning season in 2016.

Now, that team already had Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, and Anthony Rizzo in place, to go with the game’s best farm system. The current Cubs aren’t nearly that far along, and they won just 71 games in 2021 after an in-season fire sale (that actually began last offseason with the Yu Darvish trade). But they do have arguably the deepest farm system in baseball and some intriguing — several young — pieces at the big-league level.

And now they have the guy that they hope can provide Jon Lester impact for the next winning era of Cubs baseball.

The Cubs have signed free-agent pitcher Marcus Stroman to a contract, as announced by… Stroman himself. A pretty reliable source!

ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports that it’s a three-year, $71 million contract.

Stroman, 30 (31 next May), had a 3.03 ERA and 3.49 FIP over 179 innings with the New York Mets in 2021. He’s a consistent 3-to-4 WAR pitcher (he’s been worth 3.3-to-3.9 WAR per FanGraphs in four of his last five seasons), and his worst-ever FIP in a season is 3.91. He gets it done in a unique way, in this era, by being one of baseball’s best groundball specialists (57.4% for his career) and keeping the ball in the yard (he’s allowed under one home run per nine innings in every season). However, he also produced the highest strikeout rate of his career in 2021 (21.6%), to go with the highest K-BB% of his career (15.6%)- so perhaps he’s even getting better in some ways. He’s also a great defender (winner of the 2017 Gold Glove), one of baseball’s best competitors, and a high-IQ student of the game.

And the Cubs *desperately* needed starting pitching- both for 2022 and beyond.

Chicago entered today with only Kyle Hendricks and Wade Miley as for-sure members of the rotation.

Hendricks turns 32 next week and is coming off easily the worst season of his terrific career, with a 4.77 ERA (even with that number, he’s still at a sterling 3.36 career ERA; he’d never topped 3.95 in a season until 2021). Odds are he’s better than 2021 and maybe even very good again, but you never know when players get to this age- and especially when it’s a soft-tossing pitcher that relies on weak contact.

Miley will be one of MLB’s best bargain additions this offseason (one year, $10 million); the Cubs claimed him off waivers from the Cincinnati Reds after he put together a terrific 3.37 ERA in 163 innings for the Reds in 2021. But he’s 35 years old and is another soft-tosser.

Even if Hendricks and Miley are what the Cubs hope in 2022, it’s possible they may not have many good years left- and Miley is only a one-year contract. After those two, the other in-house options are Alec Mills (yet another soft-tosser and coming off a 5.07 ERA season) and promising but unproven — both in terms of results and workload — arms such as Adbert Alzolay, Justin Steele, and Keegan Thompson.

So, the Cubs needed much more talent, certainty, and innings for this rotation in 2022. But the same concerns were there for 2023-plus as well. The addition of Stroman goes a long, long way to improving things on this front, both in the short and long-term. He also allows the Cubs to not have to put as much pressure on the young pitcher to perform immediately- and the Cubs can be more creative with how they use those arms either at the back of the rotation or in the bullpen. Also, if the Cubs want to take a chance on an upside arm via free agency or trade that may have some red flags, having Stroman allows them to pursue such an opportunity much more freely.

And on the topic of the Cubs making more additions- they likely don’t make this splash for a 30-year-old star pitcher if they don’t have intentions to compete sooner than later- especially since it’s only a three-year deal. Additionally, while money is surely a huge factor here for a player trying to cash in on the most important contract of their life, Stroman likely doesn’t sign with the Cubs to be part of a full-on rebuild. Again, this is a big-time competitor, and he’s still searching for his first ring.

It appeared that the Cubs made be in clear rebuild mode for at least one more year before this move, but now we should assume that they will be aggressive to at least put a decent product on the field in 2022, and progress toward being a legitimate contender in 2023. They’ll likely add at least one more starting pitcher, and they shouldn’t be counted out of the pursuit for Carlos Correa or Trevor Story- they could use an upgrade at shortstop defensively (it would currently be Nico Hoerner, who’s a fringe shortstop and elite defensive second baseman), especially if you want to maximize the groundball skills of Stroman, Miley, Hendricks, and Mills. And we now have reason to believe that the Cubs are willing to spend big dollars to improve the team.

In one move, the Cubs made a big upgrade to their current roster- and to the entire competitive timeline and outlook of the organization.

About Matt Clapp

Matt is an editor at The Comeback. He attended Colorado State University, wishes he was Saved by the Bell's Zack Morris, and idolizes Larry David. And loves pizza and dogs because obviously.

He can be followed on Twitter at @Matt2Clapp (also @TheBlogfines for Cubs/MLB tweets and @DaBearNecess for Bears/NFL tweets), and can be reached by email at mclapp@thecomeback.com.