Cubs believe John Lackey and Jon Lester can bring out the best in each other


Cubs believe John Lackey and Jon Lester can bring out the best in each other

MESA, Ariz. - Jon Lester and John Lackey are out to win the 2016 World Series with the Cubs.

You don't have to be their teammate or manager to know that. You don't even have to talk to them to know that.

Championship aspirations are a given with two of the most competitive pitchers in the game who have combined for four World Series rings and more than 225 postseason innings.

Lackey was the big free-agent pitching addition this offseason after Lester filled that bill the year prior.

Now, the two good friends have joined forces again -with veteran catcher and former Boston Red Sox teammate David Ross in tow - and Joe Maddon believes that could be a great thing.

[SHOP: Gear up for the 2016 season, Cubs fans!]

"Jon Lester likes to have people around him that he's familiar with," Maddon said. "I think Lackey's the perfect foil, in a sense. Lack's gonna tell Jon Lester exactly what he thinks all the time and that's good.

"I think together, the combination of Lackey and David have the opportunity to bring out the best in Jon Lester. That's not to say that Jon Lester cannot do this on his own.

"I'm just saying this combination among those three guys, it's fun to watch. It's almost like a symbiotic relationship among the three of them.

"It's interesting. They've played together in the past, they connect very well on a lot of different levels. And because of that, I think they are obviously good for one another."

Maddon even said Lackey and Lester are "vibrating on the same level right now" and again mentioned how excited he was to have Lackey on the Cubs.

"We're lucky," Maddon said. "We're fortunate that John Lackey chose to come here. We're very fortunate that Jon Lester chose to come here last year.

"When we signed Lackey in the offseason, I thought he was one of the top free agent signs of the whole winter by anybody and specifically with us, how he fits in with everything we're doing.

"I think his attitude and the way he goes about his business will be felt by the other guys in a positive way."

[MORE: Cubs playing the long game with reliever Aaron Crow]

Lester has admitted he felt some discomfort when he first came to the Cubs, which may have helped lead - along with that "dead arm" period in spring training - to a slow start in 2015 (6.23 ERA in April).

Now, with a year under his belt, Lester is more at ease with everything.

Having his best friend here doesn't hurt, either, of course.

"When you know people as well as we know each other, you can definitely talk to each other a little bit differently than you talk to anybody else," Lester said. "There's no sugarcoating anything around us. You probably don't want to be in on a lot of conversations around us.

"It's good having him. It's always good when you have friends on the team. It's nice having guys that don't sugarcoat things and you know exactly what they're gonna bring and what exactly they're gonna do for you and what you can do for them to make you better."

Lester is also helping to make sure Lackey feels comfortable in his first go-round with the Cubs, helping the 37-year-old right-hander get acclimated to the clubhouse in Mesa, the personnel, etc.

The two have already started placing bets on their performance as hitters this season, too, joking back and forth in their joint press conference Sunday about how Lester picked up his first career hit off Lackey last season.

[RELATED: How Jake Arrieta plans to explode through the wall in 2016]

Lackey is known for his competitive fire on the field, but Maddon - who was the bench coach of the Anaheim Angels when Lackey first broke into the big leagues - feels the new Cubs starter has mellowed a touch as he's grown older.

When a reporter posed that question to Lackey, Lester laughed and shook his head to indicate "no way."

"I get after it," Lackey said. "I know how that can be perceived sometimes. I think people find out that I'm a lot different than they think I am, which is fine.

"In between the lines, I really don't care what anybody thinks about me. I'm there to win."

Podcast: Bold predictions for the Cubs offseason


Podcast: Bold predictions for the Cubs offseason

With the MLB offseason about to kick off, we run down the boldest predictions for the Cubs winter from around the NBC Sports Chicago Cubs content team. Topics include where Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will sign, how much money they’ll get, what the Cardinals will do this winter, Cubs offseason trades and how Theo Epstein’s front office may add to the pitching staff.


One topic we could all agree on was David Ross' potential as Cubs bench coach if the incumbent Brandon Hyde ends up taking a job as manager for another team around the league.


Listen to the entire podcast here and check out all of our bold predictions below:



David Kaplan


—Anthony Rizzo and his new wife, Emily, will adopt Manny Machado, change his last name and see Manny Rizzo playing third base for the 2019 Cubs.

—Because of the Rizzo move, the Cubs will move Kris Bryant to a full-time outfielder.

—The Cubs will trade away Jose Quintana and sign Patrick Corbin.

—The Cubs will sign a pair of former Indians relievers for the back end of the bullpen in Andrew Miller and Cody Allen.

—The Cubs will trade Kyle Schwarber to the Royals for Whit Merrifield, who will start 155 games in the leadoff spot in the order.

—Joe Maddon will be a lot more consistent with the Cubs' lineup and batting order all season.


Kelly Crull


—Anthony and Emily Rizzo will receive more wedding gifts from Cubs fans than Kris and Jessica Bryan received.

—Anthony Rizzo will train this offseason so he will be able to sing — or play the piano — for the National Anthem at Wrigley in 2019.

—The Cubs will have no money left to remodel the media room at Wrigley Field.


Luke Stuckmeyer


—The Captain Morgan Club at Wrigley Field is going to be replaced by Kap's Kryo & Keto Korner.

—The Cubs will finally find a solution to the leadoff hitter issue.


Tony Andracki


—The Cubs sign Bryce Harper for less than $250 million. (He follows 23 people on Twitter)
—Manny Machado does not get a contract for more than $250 million, either.
—The Cardinals will sign Craig Kimbrel and either Machado or Josh Donaldson to play 3B. 


Rationale: St. Louis could really use the bat and closer and they have a sense of urgency in the division this winter we haven't seen from them in at least a decade. The Cubs and Brewers have clearly been better for two seasons now and look to have a better chance at contending than the Cardinals in 2019, as well. That can't be sitting well with the "Best Fans in Baseball." 


Jeff Nelson, producer


—The Cubs will trade 2 of the following players:  Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ, Addison Russell, Albert Almora Jr.

—The Cardinals will sign Manny Machado to play third base.

—Because of construction delays, the visitors’ clubhouse will not be ready for the home opener, forcing the Pirates to dress at their hotel and come to the ballpark in full uniform.

Mike Piff, social media manager

—Cubs sign Nick Markakis.
—Cubs sign Tyson Ross.

Eric Strobel, producer

—The Cubs 2019 saves leader is not currently on the roster.

Rationale: We saw what happened to the bullpen in Brandon Morrow's absence; it got the job done by and large, but was not longer truly feared. Deep 'pens are the norm in October now with lockdown relievers being counted on more and more. The front office knows they can't truly entrust that kind of workload to Morrow with his injury history - Theo admitted as much in his end-of-season press conference. While they probably will not make a big splash, a huge focus of the offseason will be to surround Morrow/Strop/Edwards/etc. with as many talented arms as possible. The Cubs could very well enter next season without a designated closer, but if they do, it will not be Brandon Morrow.

Scott Changnon, multi-platform producer

—The Cubs will sign Bryce Harper.

Rationale: "I dunno, maybe."

Nate Poppen, producer

—Cubs sign Andrew McCutchen, plug him into CF and make Almora a 4th OF (or expendable)
—Bryce Harper signs with Yankees.
—Manny Machado signs with Angels.

Matt Buckman, producer

Non-roster prediction: The Cubs will welcome Sammy Sosa back to Wrigley Field. Sammy turns 50 this winter, and fueled by our wonderful documentary on 1998, the Cubs will finally mend their broken bond with Sammy and bring him back to Wrigley.

Roster prediction: The Cubs will trade Kyle Schwarber for a leadoff hitter. Joe has had to get very creative with the top of his order since Dexter Fowler left. Though the front office has downplayed the importance of a lead-off hitter the last two off-seasons, they will look to add one for 2019 so that Joe doesn’t have to be so creative. They won’t have a place to play Schwarber after they sign Harper so they will swap his power for a new “you go, we go” guy. Look at KC or TB as AL teams that need to add power and also have guys who could potentially lead off for the Cubs. Mallex Smith (TB) or Whit Merrifield (KC) would be interesting options.

Cubs Talk Podcast


No-brainer: The Cubs should absolutely bring back Jesse Chavez in 2019 bullpen

No-brainer: The Cubs should absolutely bring back Jesse Chavez in 2019 bullpen

Should the Cubs bring Jesse Chavez back for the 2019 bullpen?

This question shouldn't have anywhere near the polarizing effect the Daniel Murphy query had earlier this week, and for good reason.

It's hard to find any real downside for the Cubs working Chavez back into the fold next season. 

Sure, he's 35 and he'll turn 36 in August, but Chavez just had far and away the best season of his 11-year career and all signs point to it being legit.

He won't have a 1.15 ERA forever, of course, but he clearly found something with his mechanics that helped lead to the remarkable consistency he showed in a Cubs uniform (4 saves, 4 holds, 1.15 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, 42 Ks in 39 IP). 

The Cubs will be looking to add some reinforcements to their bullpen this winter and Chavez fits the bill in many areas.

When asked about how to address the bullpen this winter, Theo Epstein said his front office will be "looking for guys who can throw strikes and execute a gameplan and take the ball and pitch in big spots."

The Cubs have publicly placed an emphasis on "strike-throwers" out of the bullpen over the last two winters now and that is right up Chavez's alley.

He threw 68.5 percent first-pitch strikes while with the Cubs, which would've ranked near the top of the league in 2018, right up there with aces like Miles Mikolas, Clayton Kershaw, Aaron Nola and Justin Verlander. Among all relievers, Chavez ranked 5th in baseball in first-pitch strike percentage in the second half.

Expanding further (since the first pitch isn't the only one that matters): Chavez threw the fourth-most strikes in baseball among all MLB relievers after the All-Star Break. Since the day Chavez put on a Cubs uniform, Philadelphia's Tommy Hunter (70.5 percent) was the only reliever in baseball (minimum 30 innings) to throw a higher percentage of pitches for strikes than Chavez (69.8 percent).

If you want strikes, there's no better reliever on the market right now than Chavez.

He also shouldn't be all that expensive at age 35, even despite the breakout and high level of importance placed upon relievers these days. A similar deal to the one Brian Duensing got last winter - $7 million over 2 years - seems appropriate and would be a steal if Chavez can continue to find even a modicum of the success he had since putting on a Cubs uniform.

Speaking of the Cubs uniform, Chavez reportedly doesn't want to wear another logo in 2019, saying this after the NL Wild-Card Game:

That was an emotional time, but Chavez repeatedly raved about the Cubs clubhouse and culture throughout his time in Chicago and really appreciated the way his teammates made him feel comfortable from Day 1.

When the Cubs first acquired Chavez in that under-the-radar trade, they touted his versatility which has become a valuable asset, especially in today's game where relievers are often asked to pitch multiple innings. If necessary, he could also represent depth for the starting rotation, having made 70 starts over his MLB career. 

Unless there's a surprising market that develops for Chavez, bringing him back to the North Side of Chicago on a 1- or 2-year deal is a no-brainer.