Jon Lester summed up quite a bit with just a few select words.
“It’s just a unique deal,” the Cubs pitcher told WEEI.com during a wide-ranging conversation.
So true, in so many ways.
The first order of business, of course, is finding a path to safely play Major League Baseball again. Lester is waiting at his home in Georgia for news of what is next, living the unfamiliar life each and every professional baseball player finds themselves enduring. He understands the priorities, but he also has thought about some other realities.
“It’s going to be weird,” said Lester regarding whatever kind of MLB season awaits. “The big thing is that not only do we need to play for personal reasons but we need to play for the greater good of the United States. But there's that fine-line where, are we rushing this and putting the players at risk and their families at risk? Or are we being safe. I think if we do that the mental part of sports, the happiness it brings people, it needs to get back to the United States, for sure. Hopefully, we can bring some happiness.”
Then there are the unforeseen issues that this anything-but-ordinary baseball season will undoubtedly present. For Lester, the discomfort of the dynamic is hard to ignore.
The former Red Sox ace is 36 years old and in the last guaranteed year of his contract. There is an option for 2021, which would have necessitated Lester throwing 200 innings in 2020 for the $25 million commitment to kick in. (It is now likely going to be pro-rated depending on how short the season becomes.) And even though the lefty isn’t far removed from a 2018 season that saw him lead the National League in wins (18) while finishing with a 3.32 ERA, he knows the last impression is the most powerful.
Unfortunately for Lester, the most recent full season resulted in a 4.46 ERA over his 32 starts, leaving the lefty with a strong desire to prove 2019 was an aberration. Getting the chance is the issue.
“We've got a lot of what-if's going on right now ... For me, I don't know what is going to happen next year,” he explained. “I know I have the team option, the player option, that sort of thing. We'll figure that out one way or the other. I will either be here or be a free agent. Obviously everything is open. I'm open-minded to anything. Absolutely it would be cool to go back and finish my career where it all started. But, I've got a little time before I really have to sit down and weigh that decision, even if it's something where they want me back. Hopefully, I'm still a good enough caliber pitcher that the want of my services will still be out there for people. We'll see.
“It's weird. Not only for the individuals that are going into free agency or arbitration or what-not. People are getting a year older and not putting up numbers. With how our game is now with everybody so focused on your age and all that, this really hurts people. On a personal level, this hurts me. I'm not getting any younger and coming off a year like I had last year, this isn't going to help me.
“It's crazy. And I know it will be a shortened season, but hopefully, we can just get back to a lot of those questions can be answered on the field and guys can not be bitter about this whole situation. It sucks. We're all in it. It's not like it's a certain group of guys who can plan or can't play.”
Then there is the issue of making sure Lester is ready to go when the green light is given.
With no firm finish line for this hiatus, it has made preparing for what might be a sprint of a season a bit uneasy.
“If I'm younger, I'm still probably throwing bullpens and doing things to stay kind of locked in. But now I'm ... Yeah, I'm playing catch. I'm moving my arm. I'm doing my weights. I'm doing my stuff. But I need to know a date to ramp it up,” he explained. “I don't want to waste bullets down here in the backyard or at some high school. That's the hard part of this whole deal. Really the hitters will probably have the advantage when we do come back over the pitchers just for the simple fact because how fast can we really ramp up where we aren't risking injury. Not only injuries where you miss a start or two, but the bad injuries where you miss the whole season.”
There are no perfect solutions these days. For Lester and his MLB brethren, it will have be one very unpredictable step at a time.