Expect the Hot Stove to really heat up

 The decision is finally in: Jon Lester will be a Chicago Cub. The left-hander has reportedly agreed to a six-year deal worth $155 million with a $15 million vesting option for a seventh year. According to various reports Lester’s decision came down to the Cubs and his former team the Boston Red Sox. The San Francisco Giants were informed earlier on Tuesday afternoon that they would not be the ace’s destination.

The Red Sox reportedly made a six year offer worth $135 million to Lester, who ultimately decided he wanted a chance at making history with the Cubs. Over the past week it was speculated that the 31-year old would receive somewhere between $150-to-$160 million by the time it was all said and done. There are some reports suggesting the Giants would have been willing to go a seventh year, but no club formally offered the extra term.

Lester fronts a Cubs roster loaded with young talent that could contend in the National League Central division as early as next year. I had been of the opinion that if Lester wanted to return to Boston the contract would have been signed already, and judging by Chicago’s pursuit of the star hurler, there are few people outside of Beantown that are surprised to hear of his decision. Not to mention the fact that the Red Sox lowball offer in the spring of four years and $70 million and eventually trade of Lester to the Oakland Athletics all but sealed the end of that relationship.

The Lester decision has held up a majority of the market up to this point in time. The Red Sox have several players available in trade and were likely to hold off on other deals before getting word from their former prospect. The contract also sets the bar for top free agent starter Max Scherzer who’s believed to be seeking $200 million-plus.

Earlier on Tuesday left-hander Francisco Liriano re-signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates for three years and $39 million, but otherwise the second-tier of free agent starting pitching has understandably been in flux. Expect the market for pitchers such as Ervin Santana, Brandon McCarthy, and others to become more clear in the coming days. James Shields, the third member of the top trio of starters, is also expected to have his market develop quicker with Lester off the board. The Red Sox are believed to be turning their attention to Shields and Cole Hamels, who is available for the right offer.

It didn’t appear that the Seattle Mariners were interested in committing big dollars to a pitcher and were never involved in the Lester talks beyond preliminary conversations. That’s not particularly surprising as the team has a reasonably solid rotation and more pressing needs on the offensive side of things. However a signing of someone such as Lester would have made moving a James Paxton or Taijuan Walker for a bat a much easier pill to swallow. There is still the possibility of adding a McCarthy or Edinson Volquez type to boost the middle of the rotation.

GM Jack Zduriencik has all but said that Walker and Paxton will not be moved and because of that the club is believed to be out of the running for outfielder Matt Kemp who has also been connected to the San Diego Padres and Baltimore Orioles.

Not only will Lester’s signing affect the pitching market, but the position player market as well.

Jonny Gomes was linked to the Mariners last week and would make sense for the club as a platoon bat. The outfielder played with Lester in both Boston and Oakland and the Cubs are reportedly looking to add a couple veteran bats to the roster.

There is also some speculation that Melky Cabrera could come to a decision in the near future as well. Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune reports that talks with the outfielder are ‘stalled’. Earlier in the week the Mariners were connected to Cabrera from several within the industry and were even considered a frontrunner at one point. It is believed that Cabrera is looking for a five-year commitment and Seattle is willing to go four.

Dutton also reports that the M’s are once again showing interest in Chicago White Sox outfielder Dayan Viciedo. The Mariners have been connected to the 25-year old on several occasions and were thought to be in some capacity of trade talks last July. Viciedo would add some right-handed power to the lineup and fill a hole in right field, but isn’t particularly good defensively and has a very spotty track record. The idea of swapping out of options starter Erasmo Ramirez for Viciedo could make sense as the White Sox do have a hole at the back of their rotation even after the acquisition of Jeff Samardzija.

The Winter Meetings don’t officially conclude until Thursday, but Wednesday typically marks the unofficial end leading up to the Rule 5 draft on Thursday morning.

Expect most management teams to be getting very little sleep tonight. A lot could happen on Wednesday now that Lester has committed to the Cubs.

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Tyler Carmont

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