The Washington Nationals made it official Wednesday afternoon, announcing an agreement to terms on a one-year contract with veteran left-handed starter Jon Lester. The deal is reportedly with $5 million.
"I'm excited. I'm happy,” Lester said during a Zoom video call with reporters. “I'm glad that we are here and we are going to be a part of this organization and looking forward to it. Obviously, a little bit different with everything going on in the world but it worked out for the best."
The three-time World Series Champion and five-time All-Star is now 37 and is coming off six seasons with the Chicago Cubs where he went 77-44 with a 3.64 ERA in 171 starts. He won double-digit games and made at least 31 regular season starts in five of the six seasons from 2015 through 2019.
According to Brooks Baseball, Lester threw his cutter, a four-seam fastball, sinker, curveball and changeup in 2020. Lester said he has worked on perfecting his changeup and using that pitch to finish guys off, with his fastball velocity down to around 90 mph. Looking to improve that fastball velocity has been a focus for Lester this offseason.
"Right now, I've actually thrown a few more pens than I have in the past to this point,” Lester said. “Usually I kind of wait until the first week before spring training to get on the mound but there's some things that popped up last year that I needed to work on, that I needed to fix. I'm excited about that. I feel like I am in a good place physically on the mound."
And those things Lester is working on center around his body flexibility. Lester has concentrated on some small tweaks to his setup and delivery, hoping that he might be an answer to getting the four-seam going again.
"Just a lot of flexibility stuff,” Lester said. “I know that sounds kind of weird doing it off the mound, but just some stuff I had some limitations with last year, just a little turn, and things I was working on. We have been implementing some strengthening exercises along with mound work to try to get me in these positions that I need to be in at this point in my career. It is really kind of minimal things, but when you release the ball it becomes a big thing if you are not in those good positions."
Durability has been a hallmark of Lester’s success all these years. From 2008 to 2019, Lester was the only major league pitcher to start at least 30 games in each of those 12 seasons. He attributes his avoidance of injury all those seasons to “luck”, but it cannot be denied that he comes to camp each year ready to go and is careful about working towards the goal of getting his body in the right place before opening day.
And Lester has been used to being the opening day starter so many times in his career too. But now in Washington, he can look in the clubhouse and see the likes of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin waiting to take the ball before he gets his first start. Lester said he embraces that scenario for 2021.
"It's going to be nice to just kind of sit back and watch these guys work,” Lester said. “I've seen them from afar and got to compete against them for a long time and I'm excited to work with them. It's always nice when you go to another team and you get to see how guys work. Get to see how they prepare for each start. I've gotten to know Scherzer a little bit over the years. I'm just excited to kind of dig into their minds and see how they prepare."
So after being the opening day starter multiple seasons, winning three World Series titles, being named most valuable player of the National League Championship Series and going to five All-Star games, is there anything left for Lester to accomplish?
"Win. That's never wavered for me from day one even in the minor leagues till I signed with the Cubs to now being here with the Nationals.,” Lester said. “I want to win. I still have the drive to win. I want to bring another ring to D.C. and hopefully we can do that."
Lester talked about how excited he was to be reunited with guys like Kyle Schwarber and his former bench coach - now Nats manager - Davey Martinez, here in D.C. That was a big part of why he wanted to sign here.
"It just seemed like a great group of guys,” Lester said. “Playing against these guys for the past couple of years just how much fun they have across the way. I know Davey brings an element to that. It's definitely a place that you sit across the dugout and look out (and say) 'wow, that would be pretty cool to be a part of.' I'm excited for that."