In an overheated market for pitching, the Cubs found what they saw as a reasonable solution, reaching an agreement with John Lackey on a two-year, $32 million contract that should stabilize a playoff-caliber rotation.
The short-term deal – first reported by Fox Sports on Friday – also gives the Cubs some flexibility as they try to improve a 97-win team and keep their window to contend open.
Lackey makes sense on so many levels, even at the age of 37, and even with the added cost of a draft pick after declining a one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer from the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Cubs are willing to pay that price in this competitive phase. Lackey switches sides in the rivalry after making 33 starts for the Cardinals and going 13-10 with a 2.77 ERA for a 100-win team.
Lackey joins his buddies – $155 million lefty Jon Lester and backup catcher David Ross – from the 2013 Boston Red Sox team that won a World Series at Fenway Park.
Cubs president Theo Epstein once signed Lackey as Boston’s general manager, drawing up a unique five-year, $82.5 million contract that had him working for the major-league minimum this year after Tommy John surgery on his right elbow wiped out his 2012 season.
Lackey also made an impression on Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who worked as Mike Scioscia’s bench coach when the Anaheim Angels rookie beat the San Francisco Giants in Game 7 of the 2002 World Series.
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The Cubs crossed a big item off their list heading into the winter meetings that begin Monday in Nashville, Tennessee. Zack Greinke’s anticipated decision between the Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers could come as soon as this weekend, which should start a chain reaction among free-agent pitchers.
While Epstein has maintained a dialogue with Jeff Samardzija’s camp, the sense is that Shark’s market is escalating to a point that makes the Cubs uncomfortable. Samardzija’s disappointing season with the White Sox (11-13, 4.96 ERA) hasn’t fundamentally changed the perception of his physical skills, clean medical history and upside potential.
The Cubs certainly aren’t done making moves, but with Lackey slotting in behind Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta and Lester, they feel like they have a rotation that can get back to October.