Cubs' Epstein makes exception to his rule for Lester

There are exceptions to everything.

Since coming to Chicago in 2011 as Cubs president of baseball operations, Theo Epstein has made it a practice of not handing out no-trade clauses to players.

The previous administration, headed by general manager Jim Hendry, was often criticized for hampering the Cubs with no-trade clauses.

Epstein made a rare exception to his own rule by giving a no-trade to left-handed pitcher Jon Lester, who signed a six-year, $155 million deal with the Cubs.

"I don't usually like those, but when you're talking about a free agent of this caliber who had just gotten traded to Oakland (during the 2014 season) as a result of having a team that relied on some young players and ended up with a disappointing performance, it would have been really hard to sign him without a no-trade in the unique circumstances involved here," Epstein said.

"In the spirit of the negotiation, it was something that we initially objected to but didn't keep the fight up too long because it was also in the spirit of the connection we were trying to make."

The number game:

Jon Lester was introduced to Chicago sporting a Cubs jersey with the No. 34 on the back.

Lester had worn No. 31 with the Red Sox and Athletics, but the Cubs have retired that number for pitchers Ferguson Jenkins and Greg Maddux.

No. 34 is an interesting one. It was made famous in recent years by hard-throwing pitcher Kerry Wood.

"Thirty-one was kind of a pipe dream and clearly off the table," Theo Epstein said. "If multiple people want to volunteer it, I'm sure he would take it, but it's not our place to ask. I think he was leaning toward 33. Someone mentioned that 34 might be of interest.

"I actually texted Kerry and said, 'Hey, a certain left-hander is thinking about 34. Do you want to encourage or discourage?' He was like, 'That would be an honor. If that would happen, that would be great.'

"Kerry Wood is a big Jon Lester fan. It ended up working out. He chose 34. I think it's kind of cool."

Lester said there were multiple inspirations for the number.

"Obviously, the Chicago tie of Kerry Wood," he said. "I remember watching him as a young pitcher. Obviously the Walter Payton (Bears) aspect. And for me, just the personal aspect of watching Nolan Ryan, not necessarily watching him but studying his career.

"It's always been one of my favorite numbers other than 31. I just felt like it was a good fit."

It's a Chicago thing:

The Cubs and White Sox made the biggest headlines this off-season, especially at last week's winter meetings. On Tuesday, the Sox will hold news conferences introducing pitchers Jeff Samardzija (the former Cub) and David Robertson.

Theo Epstein said there is no competition for headlines between the two Chicago teams.

"I don't look at it, especially in the off-season, as a competitive thing," Epstein said. "I think they've had a great off-season. It's exciting.

"Chicago baseball hasn't been what it should be the last few years. With both teams taking a big step forward this winter, it only benefits Chicago baseball fans. I'm happy about that."

Cubs add Motte:

The Cubs and veteran reliever Jason Motte have agreed on a one-year contract, according to sources. The deal, which is pending Motte taking a physical, is worth a reported $4.5 million.

Motte saved 42 games for St. Louis in 2012. He came back from Tommy John surgery this past season and appeared in 29 games.

Also, the Cubs sent infielder Marco Hernandez to Boston as the player to be named in the July 30 traded that brought pitcher Felix Doubront to Chicago.

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