By Zach Bernard
It was made clear in the NLCS against the New York Mets that the Chicago Cubs did not have the resources necessary to spell Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta in the starting rotation. Kyle Hendricks is a very good young pitcher, but isn’t a stopper that can be relied on when the team is down 2-0 in a big series. The Cubs were in desperate need for another arm, someone with experience that can pick up Lester or Arrieta when necessary. And they may have found their man.
Cubs beat writer Carrie Muskat is reporting that 37-year-old starter John Lackey has been signed to a two-year deal worth roughly $32-34 million to be the third starter of the Chicago Cubs. Last year, Lackey went 13-10 with a 2.77 ERA and 3.77 xFIP with the St. Louis Cardinals, undoubtedly the finest season in Lackey’s career. Here are three takeaways from this signing.
Cubs Fans May Not Like It, But Lackey Is An X-Factor
Since he made his postseason debut on the magical 2002 Anaheim Angels team as a rookie, he has earned a reputation as a tough-as-nails playoff performer, again cementing that against the Cubs during Game 1 of the 2015, allowing just two hits and no runs over 7 1/3 innings. In 20 career playoff starts, Lackey has gone 8-5 with a 3.11 ERA and 1.217 WHIP over 127 1/3 innings. When the Mets went to Wrigley Field up 2-0, the Cubs needed Lackey more than anyone.
Cubs fans have made it clear they’re unhappy with this deal on Twitter, largely due to Lackey filing for divorce from his wife while she battled breast cancer. And indeed, that could be difficult for anyone to overcome no matter what the circumstances were. Add his brash nature with the media, and fans may be justified in their feelings. Fans take their team seriously, and it’s a part of their own identity; not wanting to associate with these things is natural.
From a strict baseball standpoint, however, John Lackey is just what the doctor ordered. Even if he doesn’t live up to his 2015 numbers, he’ll pitch well enough to make a difference.
Theo Epstein And Jed Hoyer Are Following The Red Sox Blueprint
The story is legendary: Epstein spent an exorbitant amount of time more than a decade ago lobbying Jose Contreras to sign with the Red Sox solely to beat the Yankees to it. It didn’t work, but Epstein and Contreras made a connection during the lobbying effort, and it was blunt evidence that Epstein would take no more abuse from the Yankees; he was going to make Boston top dog in the AL East.
Don’t think for a second that he isn’t doing the same thing here. Lackey was terrific for the Cardinals last year, and fans in St. Louis embraced him warmly during his short stint. Theo knows exactly what he’s doing with this signing. He knows he’s getting a proven starter and he’s stealing him away from the rival Cardinals. It doesn’t get any better than that for the Cubs front office right now as they try to wash away nearly 110 years of hilarious misfortune.
And as an aside, Theo Epstein really seems to love John Lackey; remember, he signed Lackey to a massive five-year, $82.5 million contract after the 2010 season, which largely flopped but eventually proved worthwhile after big starts for the Red Sox in their 2013 championship season.
Lackey Can End His Career On A High Note
It’s easy, because of what some can define as transgressions and character flaws, to write off John Lackey’s career because people simply don’t like him. But that would be somewhat unfair; since 2002, Lackey has faced difficult injuries and setbacks and always adjusted to his new circumstances with success.
In his career, Lackey is 165-127 with a 3.92 ERA and 3.96 xFIP. That’s a fine display of consistency, and his time in St. Louis is evidence that there’s still gas in the tank. He has been one of the game’s best pitchers over the last decade-and-a-half despite a few down years in Boston. After some bumps in the road during his career, he has the chance to use whatever fuel he has left in the tank to break the longest and most historic championship drought in pro sports history. That’s one heck of a way to go, and Lackey knows that.