The Washington Nationals have added yet another big name and extremely accomplished pitcher to their starting rotation. ESPN’s Jeff Passan and the USA Today’s Bob Nightengale report that the Nationals and Jon Lester have agreed to a one-year deal (Passan says there’s a mutual option, while Nightengale says it’s a “straight one-year deal with no options.”). It’s unclear what the financial terms are in the contract (but expect it to be in the $3-7 million range).
Left-handed starter Jon Lester and the Washington Nationals are in agreement on a one-year deal with a mutual option, pending physical, sources familiar with the contract told ESPN.
After a phenomenal six years in Chicago, Lester off to D.C. to join Scherzer, Strasburg, Corbin.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 19, 2021
Jon Lester's contract with the #Nats will be straight one-year deal with no options once it becomes official.
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) January 19, 2021
Lester joins Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin in a star-studded Washington rotation.
Now, Lester isn’t the same pitcher these days that he was while being named to five All-Star Games and winning three World Series titles. His 2020 season fastball velocity (average of 89.2 mph, according to FanGraphs) was down 3 mph from where it was in a championship-winning 2016 season with the Chicago Cubs. He threw 61 innings over 12 starts in 2020, with a 5.16 ERA, 5.14 FIP, and the lowest strikeout percentage (15.8) of his decorated career.
But the Nats don’t have “vintage Jon Lester” expectations with this signing; they just want acceptable innings from the back-end of their rotation and to improve their depth (the ol’ adage “you can never have too much starting pitching” really is true). This signing accomplishes that, and perhaps Lester can craft his way to a better performance than he had in 2020. If he could be much more like the 4.46 ERA, 4.26 FIP, 21.6 strikeout percentage pitcher he was in 2019, the Nats would be thrilled (it may require good defensive play around him, though- and the Nats were dead-last in defensive runs saved in the shortened 2020 season).
Additionally, Lester is a great veteran presence to have in the clubhouse, and he’s one of the best postseason pitchers in MLB history, with a 2.51 ERA in 154 innings pitched. Maybe Lester has a bit more October magic left in the tank as a No. 4 starter for the Nats if they can make the postseason.
This is NOT a knock on Clayton Kershaw but he would have to throw 126.2 scoreless innings in the postseason to match Jon Lester's 2.51 career ERA in the playoffs.
— Jesse Rogers (@JesseRogersESPN) January 19, 2021
Nats manager Dave Martinez was the Cubs’ bench coach in 2015-17, and the Nats signed slugging outfielder Kyle Schwarber to a one-year deal earlier this month. In the Cubs’ farewell tribute to Lester in September at Wrigley Field, a video played of Schwarber saying how proud he was to be Lester’s teammate in Chicago. Now they’re reunited.
Before workout, video plays of Kyle Schwarber saying how proud he has been to be Jon Lester’s left fielder. They share a hug afterwards as teammates clap. pic.twitter.com/MLeszzIXkv
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 29, 2020
Could Lester also be reunited with rocket-armed — an important trait with Lester’s pickoff issues — Cubs catcher Willson Contreras? MLB Network’s Jon Heyman tweeted how Contreras “would make sense for the Nats,” and Cubs players are known to be available this offseason.
Willson Contreras would make sense for Nats. They could use a second catcher, and there’s the Davey Martinez connection.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) January 19, 2021
Lester signed a six-year, $155 million deal with the Cubs ahead of the 2015 season, and proved to be worth every penny. This a completely different situation now for Lester and Washington, but there’s a good chance the left-hander will still provide the Nats decent value as a No. 4-5 starter and innings-eater.