The Chicago Cubs baseball team have agreed a $155m deal with Jon Lester – a pitcher who famously battled and overcame cancer before returning to the field in winning ways.
The Cubs’ management said it hoped Lester would provide a new attacking weapon as the team seeks to rebuild. It is the second highest sum ever paid for such a player.
Reports said the Cubs agreed the deal for the 30-year-old, that will last six years, late on Tuesday evening. Chicago succeeded where several other teams, including the Boston Red Sox and the San Francisco Giants, failed.
“It’s not often you get to win the lottery, and we won the baseball lottery this year,” the Cubs new manager, Joe Maddon, told reporters in the lobby of the Manchester Grand Hyatt hotel in San Diego. “But now it’s up to us to put it into effect. It’s all theory right now. We’ve got to make it real. But you need pieces like this to make it real.”
The Associated Press said the deal, agreed on the second day of baseball’s winter meetings, contains an option for 2021 that, if it becomes guaranteed, would make the deal worth $170m (£108) over seven seasons. The average annual value of $25.8m is the second-highest for a pitcher behind Clayton Kershaw’s $215m, seven-year deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers that came into being earlier this year.
A three-time baseball All-Star, Lester won two World Series titles with the Boston team before being traded. In 2007, he played a crucial role in helping the team win the title, despite being diagnosed with large cell lymphoma the previous year.
The left-hander joins a long-suffering team with a promising core of young players. But the Cubs’ management is looking to enact a major makeover as it seeks to end a run of five straight losing seasons. The team has not won a championship since 1908.
Chicago also has a pending $20m, two-year deal with right-hander Jason Hammel, traded by the Cubs to Oakland last summer. Earlier on Tuesday, the Cubs acquired All-Star catcher Miguel Montero from Arizona for minor league right-handers Jeferson Mejia and Zack Godley, a deal that added a further $40m in payroll costs over the next three years.
The Cubs also have a pair of All-Stars in the batting order in first baseman Anthony Rizzo and shortstop Starlin Castro and expect improved performances from young sluggers Javier Baez and Jorge Soler. Ahead is another wave of prospects that includes third baseman Kris Bryant and shortstop Addison Russell.
Mr Maddon, the coach said he hoped the addition of players such as Lester helped boost morale and change the mindset in the dressing room when spring training starts in February.
“It definitely makes it more believable to everybody else in that room,” he said. “I'll stand up and make the same speech regardless, but when you have it backed up by that particular kind of presence, it adds to it.”