With the 2010s coming to a close, NBC Sports Chicago is unveiling its Cubs All-Decade Team, highlighting the players who made the biggest impacts on the organization from 2010-19.
The circumstances which brought Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester to the Cubs could not be more different.
Arrieta was nothing short of a reclamation project when the Cubs acquired him from the Baltimore Orioles in July 2013. With Baltimore, the right-hander went from top prospect to a wildly inconsistent pitcher, flashing signs of brilliance but struggling with his command.
At the time of the trade, Arrieta held a career 5.46 ERA, and 4.0 BB/9 rate in 69 games — 63 starts. He was 27 years old, and while the Cubs front office clearly saw something in him, Arrieta becoming a regular contributor was no guarantee.
On the other hand, Lester was the first major free agent to join the then-rebuilding Cubs, signing a six-year, $155 million deal in December 2014. Theo Epstein and Co. had a promising young core, though the Cubs lacked big-game experience. In Lester, they were gaining an anchor for their rotation, a formidable presence with two championships (2007, 2013) on his resume. He was exactly what the Cubs needed.
Despite their different paths to the North Side, both Arrieta and Lester were vital to the Cubs’ transformation from cellar dwellers to annual contenders since 2015.
Arrieta elevated from near-bust to one of the game’s best pitchers with the Cubs. He won the 2015 National League Cy Young Award, thanks to a dominant second half where he allowed just nine earned runs in 107 1/3 innings (0.75 ERA), striking out 113 batters compared to 23 walks.
Arrieta tossed two no hitters during his Cubs career. He was dominant in the postseason (3.08 ERA, nine starts), leading the Cubs to victory in the 2015 NL Wild Card Game behind a complete game, two-hit shutout. He won both his starts in the 2016 World Series.
And, in classic Arrieta fashion, he shut down the Dodgers in Game 4 of the 2017 NLCS — with the Cubs trailing the series 3-0. It was his last outing in a Cubs uniform, but a fitting send-off for the right-hander, nonetheless. He finished his Cubs career 68-31 with a 2.73 ERA in 128 starts, racking up 793 strikeouts in 803 innings.
Lester has been everything the Cubs could’ve asked for and more. He’s been extremely durable, making 32 starts in four of his five seasons in Chicago, the lone exception being 2019 (31). He holds a career 3.54 ERA and 1.242 WHIP in five seasons with the Cubs.
And, about that championship experience: Lester sports a 2.44 ERA in 12 postseason appearances (10 starts) with the Cubs. When the lights have been at their brightest, he’s delivered, winning the 2016 NLCS MVP (co-recipient with Javy Baez) along the way.
Equally as important is the championship mentality Lester brought with him to Chicago. Fans can see the success he's had on the field, but it cannot be understated how important he’s been in the Cubs clubhouse. He joined a young group and helped build a winning culture after five straight Cubs losing seasons.
Without Arrieta and Lester, there is no 2016 championship. Perhaps the Cubs would’ve won a title at some point without them, but the duo represented a formidable 1-2 punch atop the Cubs rotation. For that, they’re equally worthy of a spot on our Cubs All-Decade Team.
Also considered: Ryan Dempster, Kyle Hendricks, John Lackey, Jose Quintana, Jeff Samardzija, Carlos ZambranoClick here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams Cubs games easily on your device.