In only about three years, Theo Epstein has built the Chicago Cubs farm system into one of the game’s best.  Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Javier Baez and Jorge Soler are four of the most exciting young prospects in the league, and 28-year-old right-hander Jake Arrieta emerged on the scene as a potential ace with a sterling year in 2014.

The Cubs also made national headlines recently with their hiring of Joe Maddon, one of the best managers in the league.  Maddon found a way to win with a Tampa Bay Rays team that was young and fairly talented.  Give him a loaded roster of perennial prospects, and the ceiling seems limitless.

However, they still need to add one more very important piece: a dominant starting pitcher who can pitch deep into games every fifth day and take the ball in the first game of the playoff series the Cubs hope to be in, possibly this year.

Jon Lester seems to fit the bill.  He is as durable as they come, recording at least 31 starts in each of the past seven years and pitching at least 200 innings in six of those years.

Unfortunately for the Cubs, it looks like their chances of signing Lester might be slipping away.  The Cubs made their pitch to the southpaw Tuesday, but Peter Gammons said on Dennis & Callahan, via, that his sources lead him to believe Lester will end up signing elsewhere.

“I think the one thing—obviously the Cubs are going to make every play—I get the feeling the Cubs think he’s going to go back to Boston,” he said. “I think it’s very smart for Lester and his agents to hold for another week.” 

However, it’s not like the Cubs need to put all their eggs in the Lester basket.  There is another superb starting pitcher on the free-agent marketa guy by the name of Max Scherzer.

Scherzer and Lester are both 30 years old, but Scherzer doesn’t have nearly the experience or the postseason pedigree Lester has.  Scherzer was a late bloomer, a former elite prospect who finally came into his own when he was traded to the Detroit Tigers from the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Scherzer has actually been a better pitcher than Lester over the past three years:

Max Scherzer 55-15 3.24 622.1 723
Jon Lester 40-33 3.65 638.1 563

While Lester has a few more innings pitched over that span, Scherzer has a much better win-loss record, a lower ERA and 160 more strikeouts.

I still think Lester would be a better fit due to his longer track record of success and his sterling postseason statistics, but if the Cubs cannot convince him, Scherzer is a terrific option.

He has put together a tremendous three-year run in the American League, so he should be even more dominant in the National League, where he would have the luxury of facing the pitcher’s spot instead of a designated hitter.

However, Scherzer is going to demand a huge payday.  A Scott Boras client, the 2013 Cy Young Award winner turned down a six-year, $144 million extension from the Tigers before the 2013 season.  

The fact that he rejected such a lucrative offer means he is going to relish his time on the open market, with Boras viciously negotiating with as many teams as he can get in the ring plus the “mystery team” he can engender to raise the stakes.

The Cubs are hoping to win now, and they are not going to let money stand in the way of winning their first World Series ring since 1908.  

With Scherzer headlining a rotation that features Arrieta, Edwin Jackson and Travis Wood, the Cubs would have plenty of pitching to complement their potentially dominant offense. 

If they do sign Scherzer or Lester, the Cubs could be legitimate contenders to make the playoffs in 2015. Once they get in, anything could happen.  And a dominant ace would give them a much better chance of making a deep postseason run.

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