Jon Lester vs. Max Scherzer: Money showdown in Cubs-Nationals


Jon Lester vs. Max Scherzer: Money showdown in Cubs-Nationals

Jon Lester vs. Max Scherzer.

A fascinating case study in the free-agent market will play out on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, where the Cubs and Washington Nationals will show off the two aces who cost $365 million combined.

“It was a fun offseason, I’m sure, for him,” Lester said. “It’s something that I definitely don’t want to ever go through again.”

The Decision dominated the December winter meetings, with Lester finally picking the Cubs, spurning the Boston Red Sox and not pushing the Los Angeles Dodgers to see what their limits would really be. The San Francisco Giants also made a very strong offer that would have at least been in the ballpark of what the Cubs ultimately guaranteed: Six years and $155 million.

[NBC SHOP: Buy a Jon Lester jersey!]

Creating a cone of silence, super-agent Scott Boras slow-played everything with Scherzer, waiting until late January before closing a seven-year, $210 million megadeal that contains a significant amount of deferred money.

“You’re always aware of your contemporaries in the free-agent market,” Scherzer said. “Obviously, I was interested in what (Lester) was able to secure. And, obviously, he got a very hefty contract himself. So I’m very happy for him and his family. Because as players, we all cheer for each other, and we all want the best for everybody.”

[MORE: Bryant walk-off steals the show in Cubs win]

After getting traded from Boston to the Oakland A’s at the July 31 deadline last season, Lester did not come with the qualifying offer and draft-pick compensation the Detroit Tigers attached to Scherzer.

Lester trusted the Cubs executives who used to work at Fenway Park – Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, Jason McLeod – and how they planned to build a World Series winner on the North Side.

Relationships matter: Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo had been the Arizona Diamondbacks scouting director when they grabbed Scherzer with the 11th overall pick in the 2006 draft out of the University of Missouri.

Lester said he didn’t view Scherzer as a rival or a benchmark when he strategized with the Levinson brothers’ ACES agency.

“That was one thing that I really respected about our game plan,” Lester said. “It’s not about comparing you to other people. We put everything out there that had to do with me. I wouldn’t want Max to bash me. I would probably assume the same on the other side. Each (case) is individual. There’s too many variables.”

[MORE: Cubs think Javier Baez is in a good place in Iowa]

Lester is 31 years old and left-handed, with more than 1,600 innings on his resume, plus 84 more in the postseason, and those two World Series rings from Boston. He’s starting to settle in with the Cubs (4-2, 3.56 ERA) after a rough April that had him feeling the weight of this contract.

Scherzer is right-handed and will turn 31 this summer. He recently passed the 1,300-inning career mark and has blended in well with the win-now Nationals, going 5-3 with a 1.67 ERA. He might earn some more hardware to match that 2013 American League Cy Young Award.

“You have two different ways of going about it,” Lester said. “You have Boras doing his thing and we did our thing. I don’t know what they did. I don’t know how they broke down their comparisons or anything like that. But I know on our end – before we even met about it – that was something in my mind: I don’t want to be compared to other people.

“You can take contracts and compare them, (taking) guys that have signed before you and (putting) numbers next to that. But as far as going into free agency with somebody – even (James) Shields – I don’t feel like you try to compete with anybody. I feel like you just got to stay in your foxhole and try to battle it out and do what’s best for your family.

“At the end of the day, obviously, Max got a hell of a lot more. And that’s awesome for him and the Nationals to be here. It’s just different circumstances, different deals, kind of all the way around.”

The bottom line: “We’re both in pretty good spots,” Lester said.   

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

MESA, Ariz. — The first thing Kyle Schwarber told his new hitting coach?

"His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.'"

The Cubs hired Chili Davis as the team's new hitting coach for myriad reasons. He's got a great track record from years working with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, and that .274/.360/.451 slash line during an illustrious 19-year big league career certainly helps.

But Davis' main immediate task in his new gig will be to help several of the Cubs' key hitters prove Schwarber's assessment correct.

Schwarber had a much-publicized tough go of things in 2017. After he set the world on fire with his rookie campaign in 2015 and returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending knee injury in time to be one of the Cubs' World Series heroes in 2016, he hit just .211 last season, getting sent down to Triple-A Iowa for a stint in the middle of the season. Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, but his 2017 campaign was seen as a failure by a lot of people.

Enter Davis, who now counts Schwarber as one of his most important pupils.

"He's a worker," Davis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Schwarbs, he knows he's a good player. His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.' He said last year was just a fluke year. He said, 'I've never failed in my life.' And he said, 'I'm going to get back to the player that I was.'

"I think he may have — and this is my thought, he didn't say this to me — I think it may have been, he had a big World Series, hit some homers, and I think he tried to focus on being more of a home run type guy as opposed to being a good hitter.

"His focus has changed. I had nothing to do with that, he came in here with that focus that he wants to be a good hitter first and let whatever happens happen. And he's worked on that. The main thing with Kyle is going to be is just maintaining focus."

The physically transformed Schwarber mentioned last week that he's established a good relationship with Davis, in no small part because Schwarber can relate to what Davis went through when he was a player. And to hear Davis tell it, it sounds like he's describing Schwarber's first three years as a big leaguer to a T.

"Telling him my story was important because it was similar," Davis said. "I was a catcher, got to big league camp, and I was thrown in the outfield. And I hated the outfield. ... But I took on the challenge. I made the adjustment, I had a nice first year, then my second year I started spiraling. I started spiraling down, and I remember one of my coaches saying, 'I'm going to have to throw you a parachute just so you can land softly.' I got sent down to Triple-A at the All-Star break for 15 days.

"When I got sent down, I was disappointed, but I was also really happy. I needed to get away from the big league pressure and kind of find myself again. I went home and refocused myself and thought to myself, 'I'm going to come back as Chili.' Because I tried to change, something changed about me the second year.

"And when I did that, I came back the next year and someone tried to change me and I said, 'Pump the breaks a little bit, let me fail my way, and then I'll come to you if I'm failing.' And they understood that, and I had a nice year, a big year and my career took off.

"I'm telling him, 'Hey, let last year go. It happened, it's in the past. Keep working hard, maintain your focus, and you'll be fine.'"

Getting Schwarber right isn't Davis' only task, of course. Despite the Cubs being one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball last season, they had plenty of guys go through subpar seasons. Jason Heyward still has yet to find his offensive game since coming to Chicago as a high-priced free agent. Ben Zobrist was bothered by a wrist injury last season and put up the worst numbers of his career. Addison Russell had trouble staying healthy, as well, and saw his numbers dip from what they were during the World Series season in 2016.

So Davis has plenty of charges to work with. But he likes what he's seen so far.

"They work," Davis said. "They come here to work. I had a group of guys in Boston that were the same last year, and it makes my job easier. They want to get better, they come out every day, they show up, they want to work. They're excited, and I'm excited to be around them.

And what have the Cubs found out about Davis? Just about everyone answers that question the same way: He likes to talk.

"I'm not going to stop talking," he said. "If I stop talking, something's wrong."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

Carmen DeFalco (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Bernfield join Kap on the panel. Anthony Rizzo returns to the Cubs after an emotional weekend home while Tom Ricketts expects another World Series parade. Plus Hall of Famer Andre Dawson joins Kap to talk about his Cubs reunion and how the current crop unsigned free agents compares to his experiences with collusion.