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."