Cubs

Cubs hoping Leonys Martin can have Dave Roberts-like impact down the stretch

Cubs hoping Leonys Martin can have Dave Roberts-like impact down the stretch

While the baseball world was focused on Justin Verlander relocating to Houston, the Cubs went out and got themselves a 2017 version of Dave Roberts.

Theo Epstein's front office acquired outfielder Leonys Martin from the Seattle Mariners Thursday before the waiver trade deadline expired.

It was an under-the-radar move, but Cubs GM Jed Hoyer admitted they were thinking along the lines of Roberts in 2004, when the Boston Red Sox went out and acquired the speedy outfielder who wound up stealing one of the most important bases in baseball history against the New York Yankees as part of the ALCS comeback.

Martin is a similar mold — a guy who has speed (114 career stolen bases in the big leagues) and can play exceptional defense all around the outfield.

For more recent examples, think 2015 when the Cubs acquired Quintin Berry for a pinch-running role and Austin Jackson (who also came from the Mariners in an August waiver deal) as outfield depth. 

Berry wound up stealing two bases for the Cubs in eight regular season games, but did not appear in the postseason. Jackson played 29 games in the final month of the 2015 regular season before seeing action in five playoff contests.

"Joe [Maddon] always asks us for a guy that could steal a base, that could play outfield defense in September and hopefully we can play well enough to play in October," Hoyer said. "Martin provides that — good baserunner, good basestealer, good outfield defender. 

"I don't love the 40-man rules in September, but if we're gonna play by these rules, having a guy that can pinch-run late in a game and steal a base or is more likely to score from second on a hit or something like that, it is really valuable.

"Our roster has a lot of strengths and that's not one of them this year. So he fills a hole that we have."

Martin has been around a little while, playing his entire career in the AL West prior to his first game in Chicago Saturday. He was a top prospect coming through the Texas Rangers system around the same time as Pedro Strop, ranking as high as No. 79 by Baseball America prior to 2012.

The 29-year-old played in 143 games for the Mariners last year, hitting 15 homers and stealing 24 bases with a .684 OPS. He's been a stellar defender over his career, with 47 Defensive Runs Saved in seven years, including 5 in 2017 while playing only 30 games (15 games in center field, 15 in right).

Martin said he was slightly surprised by the trade to the Cubs and has talked to Maddon and Co. about his role and expectations prior to his first game at Wrigley Field Saturday.

"He said be ready for anything and I will be," Martin said.

Martin made a lasting impression with the Cubs late last summer when he lined a double to left-center at Wrigley Field off newly-acquired Chicago closer Aroldis Chapman. The Cubs were leading 1-0 at the time, but Martin drove in two runs and wound up scoring a third off Chapman's wild pitch as the Mariners went on to win 4-1.

"The thought process there was to get speed off the bench and the ancillary beneift there is the fact that he's very good on defense and he's got a great arm," Maddon said. "Seeing him back in the day with the Rangers when I was with the Rays, he hurt us in the playoffs and the latter part of the season.

"Last year, he had that bullet in the left-centerfield gap off Chappy when he first showed up. There's some solid ability there and a lot of energy, which I kind of like. I think he fits perfectly."

Cubs will be open for business as Theo Epstein weighs trading hitters for pitching

Cubs will be open for business as Theo Epstein weighs trading hitters for pitching

Theo Epstein answered questions from the Chicago media for more than an hour on Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field, but the most interesting part might have been what the Cubs president didn’t say, something along the lines of: These are our guys.

Or at least Epstein didn’t give the same full-throated endorsement of The Core that he delivered after engineering the Jose Quintana trade with the White Sox this summer, getting an All-Star pitcher without giving up anyone from the big-league roster.

Whether it’s the way the Los Angeles Dodgers dominated the Cubs throughout the National League Championship Series that ended Thursday night, the inconsistencies and frustrations during a 43-45 first half of this season or the reality of losing 40 percent of the rotation, you walked out of that stadium club press conference thinking big changes could be coming.

“We’re going to pursue all avenues to get better,” Epstein said.

The Cubs already understood this would be a challenging time to dramatically reshape their pitching staff, with Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta, Big Boy John Lackey and All-Star closer Wade Davis about to become free agents.

The Cubs don’t really have many (any?) high-end, headliner prospects left to trade after borrowing heavily from their farm system to acquire Aroldis Chapman for last year’s World Series run and get Quintana to help solidify the rotation through 2020.

All of Major League Baseball is looking beyond this winter and preparing for the monster free-agent class that will hit the open market after the 2018 season.

Meaning it’s time for the Cubs to make some difficult decisions about all these young hitters they’ve collected.

“It may or may not be,” Epstein said. “Those choices, they’re not unilateral things. You can’t sit there and decide: ‘Hey, this guy, we’re moving him.’ Because you don’t know what the return might be. You don’t know how the different moving parts might fit together.

“I think going into the offseason prepared to make some tough choices and execute on them — and keeping an open mind to anything — is appropriate under the circumstances where we have some obvious deficits and we have some real surplus with talented players who are really desirable.”

Let’s assume All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo, MVP third baseman Kris Bryant and catcher Willson Contreras are essentially untouchable.

The Cubs used the ninth overall pick in the 2015 draft on Ian Happ with the explicit idea that the college hitter should be on a fast track and could be flipped for pitching later: Is it time to sell high after the rookie just put up 24 homers and an .842 OPS?

During an exit meeting with Albert Almora Jr., Epstein said he couldn’t promise an everyday job in 2018, though the expectation would be more responsibilities: Think anyone else would be interested in a potential Gold Glove center fielder who’s already playoff-tested?

Do you want Addison Russell or Javier Baez as your everyday shortstop for the next four years? Is there an American League team willing to bet big that Kyle Schwarber will crush 40 homers a year as a designated hitter?

The Cubs have to ask themselves those types of questions, which could mean getting outside of their comfort zone and taking on some riskier pitching investments and sapping the strength that has turned them into the dominant force in the NL Central.

“We’ve really benefitted from having two or three extra — and ‘extra’ in quotes because they’re not really extra — starting-caliber players on the roster,” Epstein said. “That helped us win 97 games in ’15, 103 last year, 92 this year. That’s as big a part of the club as anything.

“Having an Addison Russell go down and being able to move Javy Baez to shortstop — that’s an obvious example of it. But those things show up every week for us. There’s a day where someone can’t make the lineup and someone else slides in and you’re still starting eight quality guys. That’s huge.

“Sooner or later, you reach a point where you have to strongly consider sacrificing some of that depth to address needs elsewhere on the club. There’s no sort of deadline to do that. But I think we’re entering the phase where we have to be really open-minded to that if it makes the overall outlook of the team and organization better.”

Translation: The Cubs are open for business. Make your best offer.

Cubs Talk Podcast: 2017 season obituary and previewing an interesting winter for Cubs

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: 2017 season obituary and previewing an interesting winter for Cubs

In the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Kelly Crull, Patrick Mooney and Tony Andracki close the book on the 2017 season following Theo Epstein’s press conference, looking back at what will go down as the craziest calendar year in Cubs history from last November through the team’s loss in the NLCS this October.

Moving forward, where do guys like Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr., Justin Wilson and Mike Montgomery fit? Will the Cubs re-sign Wade Davis or go after another proven closer? And how worried should fans be about the offense that completely disappeared in the postseason?

Take a listen below: