Cubs Insider

Wittenmyer: Have a drink on Jon Lester and other cool takes

Cubs Insider
Justin Turner on the field Tuesday for the Dodgers World Series celebration after learning earlier in the night he had tested positive for COVID-19.
USA Today

The month ended a lot better for Cubs fans than it started, especially when Jon Lester literally bought the fan base a round this week.

The pitcher who helped turn the franchise’s fortunes when he signed a six-year deal before the 2015 season will only be back next season if the Cubs can work out a low-cost deal with him after buying out the big-ticket option on his contract for next year.

Meanwhile, Lester’s taking no chances on showing his gratitude to the city for the successful, memorable time he spent in Chicago — while also putting to shame all those full-page ads past sports heroes have used as open letters to fans on their way out of town.

He’s arranged with four Chicago bars to pay for a Miller Lite Friday through Sunday for anyone who tells them to put it on “Jon’s tab” — listing the bars in a tweet with the hashtag: #JonsTab.

Consider the debate over.

Jon Lester is now officially the best free agent signing in the history of Chicago sports.

Piece of …

Remember when Cubs star Kris Bryant in the early days of baseball’s summer camp that the league “absolutely” rushed its health and safety plans for the pandemic season compared to the financial plans?

“That’s all you can say to that,” Bryant said in July when players finally reconvened after a long shutdown and lengthy, bitter negotiations over salaries only to face gaffes and delays in the coronavirus testing program.

Fast-forward to Tuesday’s final day of the $1 billion postseason that was ownership’s focus from the start for real-life, on-field proof of Bryant’s assertion, when the Dodgers’ Justin Turner returned to the field after a positive test to celebrate the Dodgers’ World Series championship by mingling and hugging teammates, other team personnel and family — alternately wearing and removing his mask.


Never mind that it took five innings to pull him from the game after officials learned of his positive test in the second inning. Why was he allowed to play at all after Monday’s test came back inconclusive before the subsequent positive test? Why was he still in the building at all by the time the game ended? How was MLB’s requirement/suggestion that Turner remain isolated after being removed from the game so soft and toothless that he could so easily ignore it and frolic without a super-spreader care for anyone else?

Save the once-in-a-lifetime-moment crap or any risk-factor excuse-making about an easily transmitted virus that has become unbelievably and dangerously politicized in this country.

MLB sold us on a promise that safety came first in this year’s effort to play, and many players and teams — including the Cubs, who exceeded the league’s protocols — took that seriously.

But Bryant, and other players who expressed similar sentiments this summer, were right. Watching Turner Tuesday night underscored what we already knew about the billion-dollar priorities — not to mention raising legitimate questions about all those rose-colored testing numbers in October.

Turner’s move was selfish, and he should be suspended the first month of next season for it.

And then suspend commissioner Rob “Piece of Metal” Manfred for six months for his role.

Serious question

Is anyone going to get a qualifying offer this winter?

The QO figures is $18.9 million this year, and it’s hard to imagine more than one or two free agents declining that salary assurance for 2021 to seek long-term riches in what might be the worst economic climate in the game’s history — even harder to imagine teams wanting to pay it.

Trevor Bauer is the top pitcher on the market, but will the small-market Reds risk the enigmatic Bauer accepting? The big-market Yankees have the wherewithal to spend whatever they want, but will they deem 32-year-old batting champ DJ LeMahieu worth the cost for an already deep lineup when the same amount might cover the salaries of two or three quality players in a suppressed market?

Already teams are declining lower-cost contract options on valuable players, such as the Rays Friday with the $15 million option on playoff starter Charlie Morton — a Cy Young finalist as recently as 2019.

Teams receive draft-pick compensation for lost free agents only by making qualifying offers.

Jason McLeod watch

So one year after leaving an assistant general manager job in Oakland to take over Cubs drafts in Chicago, Dan Kantrovitz won’t interview for the Angels GM opening, according to reports.

But sources say Cubs executive Jason McLeod, who has mostly presided over the Cubs’ hit-and-miss scouting and player development operation for nine years, remains a candidate for that opening.


McLeod has been linked to GM jobs in recent years, including the Twins and Giants.

Public service announcement

The Cubs announced Friday they’ll have an official drop-off box for Vote By Mail ballots at the Gallagher Way gate at Wrigley Field on Clark Street from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on election day Tuesday.

For anyone who cares about such things, it’s not the first time Wrigley Field has been used as a site for election-related activity. It was used by Ricketts ownership to host a Trump fundraising event as recently as last year.

Also for anyone who thinks about such things and cares: Vote By Mail ballots can also be dropped off four blocks east of the ballpark at the Inter-American Elementary Magnet School polling place at Waveland and Fremont.

Shout out corner: Peter Chase

More than 100 Cubs employees across all operations departments were laid off, effective in many cases with Saturday’s expirations of their contracts, because, we’re told, of pandemic economics.

That includes highly respected, long-time scouts and player-development people as well as employees from marketing and ticket sales to community and media relations departments.

We in the media can’t often speak first-hand for many we cover on our beats beyond professional observations, but after 14 years on the ground daily, Cubs media relations director Peter Chase stood out among the best in the industry at his job, balancing fierce loyalty to the team with walk-the-talk respect for the work of media.

His humanity during what — like most in his profession — was close to a 24/7 work schedule never was on display in 14 seasons with the Cubs more than during a trying 2020 full of Zoom sessions and the anxiety of every-other-day coronavirus testing.

He’ll be missed more by the Cubs than they probably know.

Head-scratch corner: Tony La Russa

From a Cubs perspective it’s at least intriguing to see what Tony La Russa might bring to the White Sox dugout when he and the Cubs are back in the same place for the first time since his days managing the Cardinals.

And I’ll stay away from the ageist jokes about the Cubs’ (really) old friend becoming the stunning choice for the especially young, especially new-age and exciting Sox. Hell, Connie Mack managed three winning teams for La Russa’s old Athletics franchise in his mid-80s before retiring after the 1950 season, sticking around almost long enough for the A’s to add a Black player to the roster (1953).

But how do the Sox make this hire with a straight face without subsequent answers for these questions:

Considering his high-risk age (76) during an ongoing pandemic, who’s La Russa’s Kamala Harris?

What’s the point of employing Rick Hahn (besides his Rule 5 draft acumen)?

And — this one is serious — if you’re going to go back into the Sox manager archives for a current fit, how the hell does Ozzie Guillen get ignored?


Maybe the Cubs can entice him to take a job on the coaching staff. Now we’re talking crosstown fireworks.

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