Willson Contreras

Cubs' Willson Contreras thinks Jon Lester has a lot more left in the tank

Cubs' Willson Contreras thinks Jon Lester has a lot more left in the tank

Could 2020 be "The Last Dance" for Jon Lester?

Willson Contreras doesn't think so.

Lester is entering his final year of a $155 million deal with the Cubs, and it's a year that's definitely been cheated for all of us — not just athletes.

He's currently at home with his family in Georgia — going through the trials of eLearning — waiting to hear what's next for baseball.

"I'll tell you what, teachers don't get enough credit not only for teaching but for dealing with kids of all ages," Lester told ESPN Chicago's Waddle & Silvy last week.

Meanwhile, Lester's top catcher has been completing at-home workouts and taking batting practice with a pitching machine gun in his driveway.

In 2018, the Southpaw led the National League in wins (18) and finished the season with a 3.32 ERA.

However, Lester had a 180-degree kind of year in 2019.

Lester knows that last impressions are everything when it comes to teams deciding your fate, and for him, it was a season that consisted of a 4.46 ERA and allowing 205 hits, the most in the National League.

He understands that he's in the last guaranteed year of his contract with an option for 2021. The latter would have required Lester throwing 200 innings this year for the $25 million commitment to tap in.

“I know I have the team option, the player option, that sort of thing," Lester told Boston sports radio network website WEEI.com on Tuesday. "We'll figure that out one way or the other. I will either be here (Chicago) or be a free agent."

Lester also danced with the idea about returning to Boston once his Cubs contract expires.

"I'm open-minded to anything," he said. "Absolutely it would be cool to go back and finish my career where it all started."

And Theo Epstein would most likely be 100 percent okay with that, considering he drafted Lester in the second round of the 2002 MLB Draft for the Red Sox. He made his debut in 2006.

"Hopefully, I'm still a good enough caliber pitcher that the want of my services will still be out there for people," Lester said. "We'll see."

Lester started and won the final game of the 2007 World Series for the Red Sox and helped the team to another championship in 2013. Boston holds a special place in his heart.

But he added another World Series ring in 2016 — a very historical one — with Contreras, Epstein and the Cubs. Will his last dance take place in Chicago? It doesn't sound like he'll be finished anytime soon.

MORE: Jon Lester would ‘love to' stay with Cubs for rest of his career

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How Cubs catcher Willson Contreras is staying in shape during coronavirus hiatus

How Cubs catcher Willson Contreras is staying in shape during coronavirus hiatus

Players were ramping up for the 2020 season when Major League Baseball suspended spring training due to COVID-19. Right now, there’s no telling when baseball will return in 2020, and it only will do so when it’s physically safe.

With the season up in the air, players are trying to stay in shape at home, equally difficult mentally as physically. Many don’t have the equipment they’re accustomed to, all while not knowing what they’re training for. Will the season start in June? August? At all?

RELATED: Why mental challenges for Cubs as big as physical during baseball shutdown

This isn’t meant to trivialize the pandemic afflicting the world, but rather to point out the unique circumstances players are facing. In an effort to show how they're staying prepared, Gatorade athletes — including Cubs catcher Willson Contreras — are sharing their at-home workouts.

One of Contreras’ workouts focuses on the lower body. The regime includes several exercises fans can implement into their own workouts, as they don’t require personal equipment.

Check out the video above for more.

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How a shortened MLB season could impact the Cubs and White Sox

How a shortened MLB season could impact the Cubs and White Sox

Nothing appears imminent. And the thought of starting as soon as next month seems over-ambitious, if not implausible.

But Major League Baseball on Tuesday acknowledged reported discussions with the players over plans that might include opening the season with all 30 teams playing in Arizona, using spring training stadiums, the Diamondbacks’ Chase Field and possibly other sites.

Various reports suggest these games would not allow fans in attendance, would be staged in quarantine-like conditions (players housed without families at hotels and traveling only to stadiums) and that the season might include electronic strikes zones and doubleheaders with seven-inning games.

Myriad logistical considerations must be resolved before anything close to this is possible, not the least of which involves the establishing of an ability to test frequently and in high volume — along with contingencies to allow for continued league play in the case of a positive test.

But the discussions offer a glimmer of possibility, if not the start of a blueprint, for an actual season this year.

With that in mind, we take a look at how this possible plan for an abbreviated season — along with the recent MLB agreement with players on service time and other financial issues — might impact Chicago’s two baseball teams (beyond the shared advantages of being among the teams with existing infrastructure in Arizona).

Cubs Insider Gordon Wittenmyer and White Sox reporter Vinnie Duber break it down. (And don’t miss their discussion on the subject on the Cubs Talk Podcast.)

What about a shorter season and shorter games in any doubleheaders (assuming added roster spots)?

Gordon: This could work out in favor of the Cubs, who have an aging rotation, a rebuilt, uncertain bullpen and not a lot of proven depth across the entire pitching staff. Lean more on starters knowing they’ll pile up fewer innings over the season? Only seven innings to navigate with a late lead in doubleheader games? And if Jose Quintana’s annual stellar two-month run happens out of the chute, watch out.

Vinnie: Long relief, specifically, could be a concern for the White Sox with few options to rely on while starters build up to full strength. If starters are only going three or four innings early on, will the White Sox have enough to bridge the gap to the back end of the bullpen? The good news with a late start is Michael Kopech and the other pitchers returning from Tommy John surgery that the team figured to be midseason additions could instead be early season additions and provide greater starting depth.

And if they employ electronic strike zones?

Gordon: This already figured to be a boon in waiting for the Cubs, whose two-time starting All-Star catcher has only one nagging flaw in his game: receiving/framing. Eliminate the need to try to steal strikes, and Willson Contreras can use his athletic ability behind the plate any way he wants to better block pitches or to cheat on pop time to gain an even bigger advantage with his big arm. Will it help a starting staff that relies more on command for outs? Maybe. Either way it puts Contreras in position to take his All-Star game to another level.

Vinnie: It would have the opposite effect for the White Sox, who just signed Yasmani Grandal in part because of his elite framing ability. Only two catchers rated higher than Grandal in pitch-framing in 2019, a huge upgrade after James McCann ranked dead last in that category during his All-Star season a year ago. Grandal’s value goes well beyond simply pitch-framing with what he can do both at the plate and behind it. But while robotic umpires have long seemed a matter of when not if, the White Sox might have at least benefited from Grandal’s framing skills for part of his four-year contract. Now? Perhaps none of it.

If luxury tax statuses and penalty phases are frozen for a year, how does that impact a Cubs team that went over the penalty threshold last year and a White Sox team that is positioned well, especially with several projected core players signed to modest long-term extensions?

Gordon: Unlike the Red Sox, the Cubs did not dump salary to reset their luxury-tax liability schedule after last season, which looked good for the Red Sox and not so good for the Cubs two months ago. Now? It puts the Cubs at least in position to kick the can down the road into next winter — like they did last winter — and ride out the wave with this core through whatever amounts to the entirety of this season. That’s a big advantage over the midseason evaluation that might have led to an ugly trade-deadline selloff of at least one or two fan favorites. Would ownership be willing to step up next winter and spend to win in what might be the final year with the likes of Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, Kyle Schwarber and Anthony Rizzo — and the final year of the collective bargaining agreement? That might be the biggest question that arises out of the strange circumstances of this season.

Vinnie: The White Sox face the opposite problem, not trying to cram one last ride into their contention window but waiting at the starting line for the thing to open. Those extensions for Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and Yoan Moncada seemed genius moves at the time from a team-control standpoint. Now, one year of the team control on those contracts shrinks and could potentially get lopped off entirely. The White Sox future doesn’t get any less bright, nor does their contention window get significantly smaller. But as Cubs fans well know, one year during that window can make a big difference.

What about the fact that players on 40-man rosters who are still in big-league camps have been assured of service time for lost time on the schedule — including a full season of credit if the season is canceled?

Gordon: Other than the fact it means Kris Bryant doesn’t get screwed by the system a second time (already having lost his grievance over service-time manipulation)? Say hello to Nico Hoerner, Cub fans. Hoerner was expected to open the season at Triple-A Iowa if only because of playing-time concerns and other issues involving some of the other numbers games related to the roster of spring infield candidates. And while service time is only one small part of the equation with the rookie who debuted last fall in emergency duty, the apparent lack of a minor-league season plan, the expanded rosters and the need for more players in Arizona heat all would contribute to making Hoerner a big-league part of this team whenever the season were to start — and making the Cubs a better team in the process.

Vinnie: Allow me to discuss the potentially ridiculous case of Luis Robert, who got a contract extension in January that keeps him under club control through the 2027 season. He’s yet to accrue a single day of major league service time, and if there is no 2020 season, he won’t get any service time this year, either. That chops one full year of team control off the contract, already stinging the White Sox a little. But how about this dispatch from an alternate future? If there is no season in 2020 and the White Sox had opted to pull a Cubs and delay Robert’s debut by a few weeks into the 2021 season, they could have controlled him for as long as they do now for many millions less.

Beyond what the proposed conditions might mean for the rookies, any bold predictions about how this plan might impact others on the roster in a way that might even get into Cy Young or MVP consideration?

Gordon: Two words: Yu. Darvish. The four-time All-Star finished last year with one of the most dominant second halves in the majors, and early indications this spring suggested he was poised to pick up where he left off. But remember, for a guy who has earned four All-Star selections, Darvish has been hard-pressed to put together a full, dominant season for various reasons during seven seasons in the big leagues. He has put together several big halves of seasons. A half-season in 2020 might be built for him — maybe even a Cy Young push.

Vinnie: Not sure if he will end up in the AL Cy Young conversation, but a shortened season would seem to present an opportunity for Michael Kopech and for the White Sox, who would have the ability to use him much differently than they were planning to in a normal season. Kopech is healthy after a year-plus spent recovering from Tommy John surgery, but he still hasn’t thrown more than 134.1 innings in a pro season, the reason the White Sox are cautious about his workload. But with fewer games and fewer innings to throw, Kopech might not start the season in the minors, and workload might not be as big a concern. The worry that he might approach his limit when games got really meaningful in September and maybe October might get thrown out the window, allowing Kopech to not just pitch in those crucial games but perhaps pitch at full go in dominating, fireballing fashion.

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