The six-year, $155MM contract that Jon Lester signed this offseason is paying off nicely for the Cubs, writes Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. While the notion that that Cubs wouldn’t be in contention without Lester seems extreme, there’s no denying the strong on-field results he’s delivered, and as Wittenmyer points out, that’s particularly important due to the rotation uncertainty beyond Lester and Jake Arrieta (both Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks have struggled in the second half). Manager Joe Maddon spoke with Wittenmyer about the stabilizing force Lester has been atop the rotation, along with Arrieta, and the importance of the tone they set for younger starters.
A few more notes from the Windy City…
- The trade that sent Dan Straily and Luis Valbuena from the Cubs to the Astros in exchange for Dexter Fowler has paid dividends for both teams, opines MLB.com’s Phil Rogers. The Cubs would still be in the playoff picture even without Fowler, he notes, but Fowler has nonetheless solidified center field and the team’s leadoff position a year after the Cubs tried seven different players in center field, with lackluster results. Meanwhile, Rogers is right to note that the Astros, who hold a one-game lead over the Twins and Angels for the second Wild Card spot, have benefited greatly from Valbuena. Despite a poor batting average, Valbuena provided power and stability at third base early in the year, and the difference between his salary and Fowler’s helped the team to pursue bullpen upgrades (to say nothing of Colby Rasmus, who has closely matched Fowler’s production).
- The Cubs‘ addition of Austin Jackson has provided valuable depth for the team, writes MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat, and GM Jed Hoyer believes that depth to be one of the team’s greatest strengths. Muskat also notes that the Cubs wound up pushing the right buttons, as the decisions not to acquire Jonathan Papelbon or Chase Utley look wise in hindsight; Papelbon has been suspended for the rest of the season due to his altercation with Bryce Harper, and with Utley in the fold, the team may not have received a scorching-hot September from Starlin Castro.
- Shifting to the other side of town, White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers will undergo surgery next Friday to repair cartilage damage in his right knee, reports Bruce Levine of 670thescore.com (via Twitter). Flowers’ recovery will be worth keeping an eye on, as I’d imagine that he could be a borderline case when it comes to arbitration this December. The 29-year-old is set to earn a raise on this year’s $2.675MM salary after hitting .237/.292/.356 with nine home runs in 358 plate appearances. The Sox, who seem likely to re-tool and take another crack at contending in 2016, could look at catcher as a potential area of upgrade, though that speculation is my own, as opposed to Levine’s.
- As Colleen Kane of the Chicago Tribune writes, Jose Abreu‘s pair of RBIs yesterday brought him into an exclusive club of two, as he and Albert Pujols are now the lone players in baseball history to hit 30-plus homers and knock in 100-plus runs in their first two Major League seasons. “It’s a big honor to see my name now along with Albert,” said Abreu, via interpreter. “He’s one of the greatest players in the history of baseball, and now to have the opportunity to see my name along with his name is a big honor for me.” Abreu’s dominant performance over the first two seasons has made what was, at the time, an enormous leap of faith by the White Sox now look like a bargain. Abreu’s production through just two seasons has arguably already justified Chicago’s six-year, $68MM expenditure.