LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLA. – It’s a change in one sense and something very much the same in another.
Once again, Jon Lester will be on the same team as David Ross. That was the case for parts of three seasons for the pitcher and catcher in Boston then two in Chicago. The pitcher-battery combination was one of the most recognizable in baseball, and contributed to championship runs with the Red Sox (2013) then the Cubs (2016).
Circumstances are a little different this time since Ross won’t be putting on the gear to catch Lester as he begins his 15th year in Major League Baseball. The catcher is now the pitcher’s boss, which could make things a bit different for the upcoming year.
Yet in an interview with WGN from the 2nd Annual Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, Lester said the core of who Ross is as a person won’t change despite his position with the club.
“I think you’re going to get the same guy,” said Lester of Ross. “Obviously now he’s our manager, he’s not a player, so obviously, you have that different relationship,” said Lester of Ross. “But I think, really, that’s going to be the only thing that will make things different. I feel like he’s handled everything so well this offseason.”
Lester said that he's talked with Ross a number of times since he was officially named the team's manager last October. The pitcher expects one key characteristic from his new manager to easily carry over from his playing days in 2020.
"I know that the players know this as well, that we're gonna get 100 percent honesty in everything he does and why he does it," said Lester. "So I'm looking forward to it; it's going to be a fun new chapter, and hopefully we can get off to a good start for him."
Another thing that won't change for Lester is the bulk of the roster that was on the field when the pair were still playing. For better or worse, the Cubs haven't made a single guaranteed free agent signing this offseason, as they've pulled off a few minor trades over the last few months.
The main reason is the fact the team has many of their young stars coming up for major raises, leaving team president Theo Epstein the task of managing the present and the future. It's a gamble for the Cubs to hope that the same team that won 84 games last year can increase that total with no help, but naturally, Lester has faith.
"It's pretty much the same group we had in '16, and we did pretty well that year; '15, '16, '17, we were in the NLCS for three year-in-a-row with a World Series," said Lester. "The last two years haven't gone the way we've liked, you know, but I think having this new spark, I guess, with having David come in and be our guy now. Maybe give us that little energy early on and give us that boost."
Lester could certainly help that cause by finding his past form in 2020 and putting together a full consistent season on the mound. He had great runs in March and April (2.37 ERA) along with July (2.77 ERA) in 2019, but was up and down in other months en route to a 13-10 season with a 4.46 ERA.
The veteran lefty made an adjustment to his offseason workout routine in an attempt to right things for this upcoming season.
"This year I've put a little more emphasis on some flexibility and some areas that kinda hindered me last year," said Lester. "As always trying to maintain that strength, and obviously, your arm is the most important thing. so went about that a little bit different this offseason and I'm liking it so far. I feel like I'm in a good position these last couple of weeks before I head out there."
Once in Mesa, he'll be teamed up with an old friend, where things will be different yet very much the same.