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 reportedly interested in adding Yu Darvish to starting rotation

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USA TODAY

Cubs reportedly interested in adding Yu Darvish to starting rotation

The Cubs aren't expected to bring back Jake Arrieta. But what about adding the other top pitcher on the free-agent market?

According to a Saturday report from The Score's Bruce Levine, the Cubs are showing interest in Yu Darvish, who they recently saw in the National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Darvish joined the Dodgers in the middle of last season after spending five and a half years as a Texas Ranger. He pitched Game 3 of the NLCS against the Cubs, holding that unusually cold lineup to just one run in 6.1 innings at Wrigley Field, helping the Dodgers reach the World Series. Darvish pitched twice in the Fall Classic against the Houston Astros, taking losses both times and twice failing to get out of the second inning against his old division rivals, including in the decisive Game 7.

The 31-year-old Darvish has been excellent since coming over from Japan ahead of the 2012 season. He's been named to four American League All-Star teams and finished in the top 10 in AL Cy Young voting in each of his first two seasons. He missed the entirety of the 2015 campaign with an injury.

Darvish has a 3.42 career ERA in his five big league seasons and three times has struck out more than 200 hitters in a season, including a baseball-leading 277 in 2013.

Along with Arrieta, Darvish is expected to fetch a huge payday this offseason. The Cubs' reported interest could show that they're not finished adding to their pitching staff despite signing four arms in recent weeks. Tyler Chatwood was a free-agent addition to the starting rotation, bringing the number of spoken-for spots there to four, with Chatwood joining Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana as rotation locks. Brandon Morrow and Steve Cishek were added to the bullpen, while Drew Smyly — who's expected to miss the entirety of the 2018 campaign while recovering from Tommy John surgery — was signed with eyes on 2019.

After Mike Montgomery's desire to be a starter or go somewhere where he could be was reported during the Winter Meetings, there was a thought he could be the answer at the No. 5 spot on the starting staff. But this reported interest in Darvish — not to mention the team's previously reported connections to free-agent starter Alex Cobb — could mean the Cubs are still looking to add a big name to make the rotation more closely resemble what it looked like in recent seasons with Arrieta in the mix.

The Epstein's front office certainly has options, and the team has frequently voiced its confidence in Montgomery as a starter. But the team, for all its additions, has yet to make a splash this offseason. Stay tuned.

Jon Lester: The most important signing in Cubs history

Jon Lester: The most important signing in Cubs history

Jon Lester became the most important signing in Cubs history when he agreed to a six-year, $155 million contract to be the ace of the Cubs.

He spurned his old team — the Red Sox — along with a handful of other teams ready to pony up the nine-figure deal necessary to acquire the frontline starter. By choosing the Cubs, Lester accelerated Theo Epstein & Jed Hoyer's famous "Plan," legitimizing Chicago as a free agent destination and as an up-and-coming perennial playoff team.

"This signing really marks a transition of sorts for the Cubs, the start of a period where we are clearly very serious about bringing a World Series to the Cubs and the people of Chicago," Epstein said back on Dec. 15, 2014.

Inking Lester to a megadeal was a calculated risk, but all $100 million contracts are. Here's a closer look at the Cubs 100 million dollar men:

Nov. 30, 2006 - The Cubs introduce Alfonso Soriano

Back in 2007, the Cubs needed to make a splash and did so by signing the top free agent hitter on the market.

The Cubs inked Alfonso Soriano to an eight-year, $136 million dollar contract — then, the largest in franchise history. The Cubs had their leadoff hitter — fresh off becoming the fourth member of the 40-40 club — to go along with a new manager in Lou Piniella. Soriano made two All-Star teams for the Cubs in 2007 and 2008 while playing a key role on both division-title winning teams.

However, his time with the Cubs will often be remembered by his offensive decline, his subpar play in the outfield, and his eventual trade to the Yankees. While his overall body of work was statistically respectable, his output did not match the $136 million the Cubs invested in him.

Dec. 15, 2014 - The Cubs introduce Jon Lester

Like the signing of Soriano, the reeling in of Lester to Wrigley Field was paired with the hiring of another new big name manager, Joe Maddon.

Three years into his megadeal, Lester is 43-25 with a 3.33 ERA in 96 starts. The 2016 All-Star and Cy Young runner-up has done some of his best work in the postseason, where he's 3-1 with a 1.98 ERA in his last nine postseason appearances — three of which came in the 2016 World Series.

Lester's tireless work ethic off the field and his veteran influence in a young Cubs clubhouse has made this signing a smashing success. 
    
Dec. 15, 2015 - The Cubs introduce Jason Heyward

One year to the day after introducing Lester, Jason Heyward met with the Chicago media after signing an eight-year, $184 million contract — the richest in franchise history.

Heyward was coming off one of his best offensive seasons (.289, 13 HR, 60 RBI with the Cardinals) and his third Gold Glove in four seasons but the prized free agent struggled from the start in Chicago. Taking Heyward away from the Cardinals and signing baseball's top free agent prize ended up creating an outfield log jam in Chicago.

Heyward's speech during the rain delay in Game 7 against the Indians will most likely end up being the highlight of his Cubs career. The post-World Series championship offseason storyline of Heyward rectifying his broken swing was entertaining to follow on social media, but his 2017 slash line of .259/.326/.389 is clearly not worth the $184 million he signed for.

The future is now

"I believe in the plan that they have in place for the future of the Cubs."

That's what Lester said back on Dec. 15, 2014.

That statement still holds true today. Lester remains the anchor of the Cubs staff surrounded by Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana with reinforcements on the way. Regardless of any additions or subtractions, the Cubs will again be one of baseball's World Series favorites entering 2018 and the reliable lefty will be at the center of it all.

Halfway home, the $155 million deal has been "smart money" spent on Lester, the most important signing in Cubs franchise history.