Given their shared history from the time they spent together in Chicago, where they helped to end the Cubs’ 108-year World Series drought, Washington Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez’s talk with veteran lefty Jon Lester after the Nats traded Lester to the St. Louis Cardinals this past July 30th, was not an easy one.
Lester, who turned 38 last week, signed a 1-year/$5M with the Nationals for 2021, but the southpaw struggled during his run in the nation’s capital, putting up an ugly 5.02 ERA, a 5.43 FIP, and a rough .297/.356/.503 line against in 16 starts and 75 1⁄3 innings pitched before he was dealt to the Cards in return for outfielder Lane Thomas as part of the sell-off in D.C. at the trade deadline.
Once the trade was completed, Martinez broke the news to Lester.
“It was a tough one,” the Nationals’ skipper acknowledged. “I spoke to him a few times before he left. He apologized for things not working out, the way it was, but I told him he’s a professional, go to your new team, and just try to help them win. I looked at him, I said, hey look, you pitched well, the numbers might [not] show it, but I thought you did really well for us, so I wish you all the best.”
Though Lester was leaving the Nationals, Martinez said they would keep in touch.
“I’ll see him over the winter time, for sure, but we’ll continue to talk and have conversations, but he’s a good one. He really is. As you know he’s had an unbelievable career, and he’s still got more left in the tank, so I wish him the best.”
Lester showed he still had something left in St. Louis, putting up a 4.36 ERA, a 5.40 FIP, and a .270/.342/.448 line against in 12 starts and 66 IP down the stretch with the Cardinals, wrapping up his 16th MLB campaign with a 10-start run in which he went (4-0) with a 3.40 ERA, a 5.29 FIP, and a .252/.326/.433 line against in his final 55 2⁄3 IP.
Lester credited a few tweaks to his pitch selection, and the work he did with Cards’ veteran (and potential, future Hall of Fame catcher) Yadier Molina for the turnaround.
“This isn’t a knock on the D.C. guys,” Lester explained, as quoted by The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal in September (‘21). “I love Gomer [Yan Gomes] and I love Al [Alex Avila] and Tres Barrera caught me a few times before I left. But when you have a guy like Yadi back there and you’re making adjustments to things you’re not comfortable with and he’s reassuring you, ‘We’re good, we’re good,’ it kind of helps you buy into those things a little bit easier.”
Lester did show himself and the baseball world that he had something left to offer, but yesterday he decided to call it a career, and hang it up after a 16-year run in the majors in which he helped end two of the most historic World Series droughts in baseball history and won three rings total.
“‘It’s kind of run its course,’” Lester told ESPN reporter Jesse Rogers of the decision to end his playing days. “‘It’s getting harder for me physically. The little things that come up throughout the year turned into bigger things that hinder your performance.
“‘I’d like to think I’m a halfway decent self-evaluator. I don’t want someone else telling me I can’t do this anymore. I want to be able to hand my jersey over and say, “Thank you, it’s been fun.” That’s probably the biggest deciding factor.’”
.@JLester34 won 200 games, made five All-Star teams and earned three World Series rings during an illustrious 16-year career. He has been an inspiration to many as a cancer survivor and longtime patient advocate. Congratulations and best wishes in your retirement, Jon! pic.twitter.com/yq7Kk3atHN
— MLBPA (@MLBPA) January 12, 2022
Congrats on a great career, Jon.