Today, we are going to discuss former Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs left-handed pitcher, Jon Lester, and explore his potential fit with your Seattle Mariners.
The 36-year-old lefty is one of the more recognizable names this winter and we know Jerry Dipoto has hinted at adding an established veteran pitcher to his young rotation. With names like Kevin Gausman and Marcus Stroman already off the market, a thin starting pitcher class just got weaker.
As for Lester, a cult hero in both Boston and Chicago, his best days are definitely behind him. he hasn’t posted a sub-4 FIP or a 4 or better fWAR since 2016 and he was simply bad in 2020. I mean, look at this statcast page. That’s a lot of blue. But in the small sample size of 12 stars, it’s tough to draw too much from these numbers. After all, in 2019, Lester was quite good, posting a 4.26 FIP, 8.65 K/9, and a 2.73 BB/9.
While Lester’s K/9 dropped significantly in 2020, his BB%, HR/FB rate, and average exit velocity were well within normal ranges, so there may be some optimism that Lester could return to 2019 form. But he’ll turn 37-years-old in January and his ceiling is that of a good but not great #3 starter. The biggest obstacle for the Mariners to sign Lester might be Lester himself.
At the end of his career, Lester very well could be looking to pitch for one final World Series ring after winning one each with the Red Sox and Cubs. There have been some rumblings that Lester would like to reunite with the Red Sox and if that feeling is mutual, it seems like an easy fit. The Mariners simply cannot offer Lester a realistic shot at a ring in 2021.
Lester is from the Seattle area, Puyallup to be exact, but we have no indication that Lester is interested in pitching for his “home town team”. The arguments for Lester seem to lie too heavily on the home town team narrative, as well as the vaunted “veteran presence” role for a young rotation. But these are basically just cliches and don’t carry over to the market as much as many think. If the Mariners want Lester, they’ll need to outbid the entire Market AND convince him that he can win with the Mariners right away and that just doesn’t seem like an easy sell.
If the Mariners can land Lester on a 1-year deal worth $4-$6 million this winter, then a match could make sense. But at the end of the day, there are more appealing arms for Seattle to pursue and probably better fits for Lester as well. A union could make sense under the right circumstances, but it remains unlikely.
Jon Lester is certainly a name that would potentially excite the average fan and being a hometown guy is certainly a nice story to tell. But ultimately, the Mariners may be better off giving this spot to Nick Margevicius if Lester is the best you can do. Overall, Lester would be a solid albeit unspectacular addition to the rotation, especially if he could return to his 2019 form.