Nats finalizing deal with five-time All-Star lefty Lester

The Nationals' search for a No. 4 starter appears to have landed on a former ace and postseason hero with ties to the manager and pitching coach.

Jon Lester, the three-time World Series champion with the Red Sox and Cubs, is finalizing a one-year deal with the Nats, a source familiar with the discussions confirmed.

Though he still needs to pass a physical to make the deal official - that may not happen for several days - Lester will become one of the highest-profile No. 4 starters in the majors, slotting in behind Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin in the Nationals rotation.

Lester-Throws-Cubs-Sidebar.jpgThe 37-year-old isn't the same pitcher who finished in the top four in Cy Young Award voting three times last decade, and he's coming off a disappointing (albeit shortened) 2020 season in Chicago in which he posted a 5.16 ERA in 12 starts.

But the Nationals don't need Lester to lead their pitching staff. They merely need him to help round out an already star-studded rotation, give his team a chance to win every fifth day and potentially make some big starts in October should the opportunity arise. Essentially, he replaces Aníbal Sánchez, who was instrumental during their 2019 championship run before struggling last season.

Lester's track record suggests he can do just that. The left-hander made at least 31 starts and totaled at least 171 2/3 innings every season from 2008-19. And his 12 starts and 61 innings last year were the equivalent of 32 starts and 165 innings over a normal 162-game season.

Opponents did start to have more success against Lester the last two seasons; he gave up a league-high 205 hits in 2019 and saw his ERA spike to 5.16 while surrendering a career-worst 1.6 homers per nine innings in 2020. Despite the gaudy numbers last season, he did allow zero or one run in six of his 12 starts.

The Cubs, who struck gold when they signed Lester to a six-year, $155 million contract in 2015, wound up declining his $25 million option for the 2021 season, choosing instead to give him a $10 million buyout.

With a fastball that only hovers around 90 mph at this stage of his career, Lester will need to show he can reinvent himself as a pitcher, something he's had to do before. Nationals manager Davey Martinez and new pitching coach Jim Hickey, who both had Lester on their roster in Chicago, know him as well as anyone and know how much he still has in the tank.

Lester certainly is as accomplished as any pitcher on the open market this winter. Over a 15-year career with the Red Sox, Athletics and Cubs, he's 193-111 with a 3.60 ERA, 2,397 strikeouts and five All-Star selections. He won World Series rings with Boston in 2007 and 2013, then with Chicago in 2016.

Lester's postseason success - he's 9-7 with a 2.51 ERA in 26 games (22 starts) - only solidify his legacy.

With this addition to their rotation, the Nationals now enter the 2021 season with a fearsome foursome that includes two right-handers with their own sterling October resumes (Scherzer and Strasburg) and two lefties with impressive track records (Corbin and Lester).

They'll still need one of their in-house candidates (Joe Ross, Erick Fedde, Austin Voth) to step up and seize the No. 5 starter's job for good, but they'll have more depth to compensate for any injuries that arise along the way.

ESPN was first to report the Nationals' agreement with Lester.

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