Seattle Mariners

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."

While baseball world buzzes over Justin Verlander, Cubs add Leonys Martin in trade with Mariners

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USA TODAY

While baseball world buzzes over Justin Verlander, Cubs add Leonys Martin in trade with Mariners

While the baseball world buzzed over the blockbuster Justin Verlander deal that apparently fell apart and then came together for the Detroit Tigers and Houston Astros, the Cubs made a minor trade with the Seattle Mariners before the Aug. 31 deadline, bringing extra outfielder Leonys Martin into their organization.

The Mariners included cash in the trade and will receive a player to be named later or cash for Martin, who got designated for assignment twice this season – and was no longer part of Seattle’s 40-man roster – but is now eligible to become part of a playoff roster for the Cubs.

It’s not immediately clear where Martin will report – or when or if the Cubs will eventually add him to their active roster – but he sure looks like a pinch-running specialist for September.

Martin has 114 career stolen bases and could fill the role Dave Roberts made famous with the 2004 Boston Red Sox – or at least represent the speed option Quintin Berry had been for the 2015 Cubs.   

Martin, a Cuban defector, spent his first five big-league seasons with the Texas Rangers, where he put up 30-plus stolen bases in 2013 and 2014 and developed a reputation as a solid defender, though that combination of skills hasn’t been enough to make up for a career .662 OPS.

Leading up to Thursday’s unusually dramatic waiver deadline (11 p.m. Chicago time), the Cubs didn’t see Verlander’s no-trade rights as an obstacle, framing their discussions around the price point where it would make sense to: absorb the $56 million remaining on the final two guaranteed years of his contract; drain a prospect pool that’s been tapped in multiple win-now deals; and take on the injury risk with a pitcher who will be 35 next season.            

An Astros team with the best record in the American League – and zero World Series titles in franchise history – looked at Verlander and asked the same question Cubs president Theo Epstein did last summer after acquiring Aroldis Chapman: If not now, when?

Cubs add Leonys Martin after failing to reel in Justin Verlander

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USA TODAY

Cubs add Leonys Martin after failing to reel in Justin Verlander

The Cubs didn't acquire star pitcher Justin Verlander, but they did make a move before the Aug. 31 waiver trade deadline. 

Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer traded for the Mariners' Leonys Martin, a 29-year-old outfielder who has played in 34 MLB games this season. In exchange, the Cubs will send Seattle a player to be named later: 

Martin struggled in the bigs this season, but he has put up a solid .307/.348/.494 slash line in Triple-A Tacoma. He's produced a .248/.300/.361 line in his seven pro seasons. 

The Cuban outfielder's problems at the plate come on the heels of his most powerful season. In 2016, he hit a career high 15 homers and 47 RBI for Seattle. Given that, he does give the Cubs more depth in the outfield. 

As for Verlander, CSN's David Kaplan reported earlier Thursday that the Cy Young winner was willing to waive his no-trade clause to come to the North Side of Chicago: 

But between the Cubs' thin list of prospects and the Tigers' asking price, a deal couldn't be struck. The pitcher is instead heading to Houston to join the Astros in their quest for the A.L. pennant: