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.
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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.”
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.”
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.