(Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
The Cubs continue to beef up the veteran presence in the 2015 clubhouse, signing outfielder Chris Denorfia to a one-year contract. To make room for Denorfia on the 40-man roster, left-handed pitcher Mike Kickham was designated for assignment.
Denorfia, 34, is a career .272 hitter (530-for-1,950) in 705 major league games covering all or part of nine seasons with the Cincinnati Reds (2005-06), Oakland Athletics (2008-09), San Diego Padres (2010-14) and Seattle Mariners (2014). He has averaged 21 doubles, four triples, nine home runs and 13 stolen bases per 162 games played, while turning in a career .331 on-base percentage and a .394 slugging percentage, good for a .725 OPS. He has played 352 big league games in right field, 248 games in left field and 164 games in center field.
The right-handed hitter could be a solid platoon option, as he is a career .292 hitter with 19 home runs, 85 RBI, a .358 on-base percentage and a .430 slugging percentage versus left-handed pitching. He has also excelled in games against the National League Central (.298 career batting average) and in games at Wrigley Field (.339 career batting average).
Denorfia is coming off a down year. He began the 2014 campaign in San Diego before being acquired by Seattle at the July 31 trade deadline. He combined to hit .230 with 12 doubles, three home runs and 21 RBI in 121 games between the two stops. He had a career-best .293 batting average and .796 OPS in 130 games for the Padres in 2012 and hit 10 home runs in 144 games for the Padres in 2013, both career highs.
A native of Bristol, Connecticut, Denorfia was originally selected by the Cincinnati Reds in the 19th round of the 2002 Draft out of Wheaton College.
Kickham, 26, was claimed off waivers from the San Francisco Giants on December 23. He is 31-35 with a 3.97 ERA (231 ER/523.2 IP) in 99 career minor league games, all but four as a starter.
(Image by Brian Kersey/Getty Images)
The Cubs and catcher David Ross officially finalized terms on a two-year contract Tuesday.
The 37-year-old Ross has spent parts of 13 seasons in the majors, having played with the Dodgers (2002-04), Pirates (2005), Padres (2005), Reds (2006-08), Red Sox (2008, 2013-14) and Braves (2009-12). He is a career .233 hitter with 101 doubles, 95 home runs and 273 RBI in 744 major league games. He owns a .318 on-base percentage and a .435 slugging percentage, good for a .753 OPS.
The right-handed hitter has been to the postseason four times, including in 2004 with the Dodgers, followed by a pair of appearances with the Braves in 2010 and 2012. In 2013, the veteran claimed a World Championship with Boston alongside new Cubs ace Jon Lester, seeing action in eight games, including four World Series contests during the six-game win against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Ross hit a career-high 21 home runs in 90 games for the Reds in 2006 and followed that up with 17 homers for the club in a career-high 112 games in 2007. He has averaged 53 games played during the last seven seasons starting in 2008, including 50 games last year for the Red Sox during which he hit .184 with seven doubles, seven home runs and 15 RBI. During the past seven seasons, Ross has thrown out 35.1 percent of runners attempting to steal, the fourth-best mark in the majors during that span. His 3.69 catcher’s ERA is tied for 10th in the majors in that span, and he is also known as an excellent pitch framer.
A native of Bainbridge, Georgia, Ross was originally selected by the Dodgers in the seventh round of the 1998 Draft out of the University of Florida.
(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
The Cubs claimed left-handed pitcher Mike Kickham off waivers from San Francisco on Tuesday. Additionally, catcher Ryan Lavarnway was claimed off waivers by Baltimore, and first baseman Shane Peterson was claimed by Milwaukee.
Kickham, 26, is 31-35 with a 3.97 ERA (231 ER/523.2 IP) in 99 career minor league games (95 starts) since he was selected by the Giants in the sixth round of the 2010 Draft out of Missouri State University. He has struck out 464 batters, an average of 8.0 strikeouts per nine innings, while allowing 227 walks.
Kickham spent the majority of 2014 with Triple-A Fresno, going 8-8 with a 4.43 ERA in 27 starts, including a 12-start stretch in which he went 6-0 with a 2.74 ERA from May 25-July 24. His 131 strikeouts ranked fourth in the Pacific Coast League, and he went 95.0 consecutive innings from May 20-August 21 without allowing home run.
The 6-foot, 4-inch, 220-pound Kickham was 7-7 with a 4.31 ERA in 20 starts for Fresno in 2013, a season after setting career-best totals in wins (11) and ERA (3.05) while being named to the Eastern League postseason All-Star team with Double-A Richmond in 2012.
Kickham made his major league debut with the Giants in 2013 and has pitched in 14 games (three starts) in parts of the last two seasons for San Francisco, going 0-3 with a 10.98 ERA.
Lavarnway, 27, was originally claimed off waivers from Boston on Dec. 19. Peterson, 26, was claimed off waivers from Oakland the same day.
The Cubs claimed catcher Ryan Lavarnway off waivers from the Dodgers and outfielder Shane Peterson off waivers from the Athletics Friday afternoon. To make room on the 40-man roster, right-handed pitcher Donn Roach and infielder Logan Watkins were designated for assignment.
The 27-year-old Lavarnway spent the previous seven seasons with the Red Sox, including 97 games in the majors between 2011-14. He was claimed off waivers by the Dodgers on Dec. 5 and designated for assignment on Dec. 10.
The 6-foot-4, 240-pound, right-handed hitting catcher is a career .201 major league hitter (56-for-279) with five home runs and 34 RBI. He saw his most extensive big league action in 2012 (46 games) and 2013, batting .299 with seven doubles, one home run and 14 RBI in 25 games for the 2013 World Series champs. In 2014, Lavarnway missed more than two months with a left wrist strain and saw action in only nine big league games. He primarily played for Triple-A Pawtucket, hitting .283 with three homers, 20 RBI and a .389 on-base percentage in 62 games.
Lavarnway was originally selected by the Red Sox in the sixth round of the 2008 Draft out of Yale University. He was named Boston’s Minor League Offensive Co-Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons in 2010-11 and combined to hit .290 (126-for-435) with 23 doubles, 32 homers, 93 RBI and a .939 OPS in 116 games between Double-A Portland and Pawtucket in 2011 to earn his first promotion to the big leagues.
Peterson, 26, batted .308 (167-for-543) with 40 doubles, 11 homers and 90 RBI with Triple-A Sacramento last season, earning Pacific Coast League midseason and postseason All-Star honors. He posted a .381 on-base percentage and a .460 slugging percentage, good for an .841 OPS. Peterson led the league in hits and doubles and ranked second with 101 runs scored. He played 83 games in center field, 42 games in left field and nine games in right field.
The 6-foot, 210-pound Peterson was originally selected by St. Louis in the second round of the 2008 Draft out of Cal State-Long Beach and was acquired by Oakland as part of the trade that sent Matt Holliday to the Cardinals. He made his major league debut with the Athletics in 2013, going 1-for-7 with an RBI in two games.
Roach, 25, was claimed off waivers from the Padres on Nov. 12. He went 1-0 with a 4.75 ERA in 16 appearances, including one start, in the majors last season, his first year in the big leagues.
Watkins, 25, batted .233 with four doubles, one home run and six RBI covering the last two seasons with the Cubs. He was originally selected in the 21st round of the 2008 Draft.
(Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty)
The Cubs added a veteran presence—and a familiar NL Central face—to the bullpen Friday when they agreed to terms on a one-year contract with right-handed pitcher Jason Motte.
Motte, 32, is 18-13 with 54 saves, 50 holds and a 3.03 ERA (96 ER/285.0 IP) in 311 relief appearances covering all or part of six major league seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals (2008-12, 2014). He has struck out 290 batters while walking only 86 in 285.0 innings pitched and has turned in a 1.11 WHIP. Over his career, he has limited opponents to a .222 batting average, including a .217 mark by right-handed hitters and a .229 average by lefties.
In a stellar three-year span from 2010-12, Motte went 13-9 with 53 saves and a 2.43 ERA in 201 relief outings. He posted a career-best 2.24 ERA in 2010 before helping the Cardinals to the World Series championship in 2011 with a 2.25 ERA, nine saves and a career-high 18 holds in a career-best 78 relief appearances. He was on the mound to close out the decisive seventh game of the World Series, capping a postseason during which he turned in a 2.19 ERA and five saves.
Motte took over full-time closer duties in 2012 and tied for the National League lead with 42 saves, going 4-5 with a 2.75 ERA in 67 appearances. The next year he suffered a right elbow injury on March 21 that ultimately required Tommy John surgery, forcing him to miss the entire 2013 campaign. But he returned to the mound last season and went 1-0 with a 4.68 ERA in 29 major league outings.
A native of Port Huron, Michigan, Motte was originally selected by the Cardinals in the 19th round of the 2003 Draft as a catcher. He began his conversion to pitcher during the 2006 campaign and was in the big leagues by the 2008 season, posting a 0.82 ERA in 12 appearances for the Cardinals.
Motte is also the founder of the Jason Motte Foundation, whose mission is to provide comfort and care where there is a need for those affected by cancer of all kinds. His “K Cancer” campaign last season raised awareness and participation throughout Major League Baseball and beyond, and Motte was nominated for the 2014 Roberto Clemente Award, the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award and the Branch Rickey Award.
The Cubs announced their minor league coordinators for the 2015 season on Wednesday. They are as follows:
Tim Cossins returns for his third season as the organization’s minor league field/catching coordinator following 10 years in the Miami Marlins’ farm system, including the final six as the minor league catching coordinator. He was also a manager in the Marlins’ minor league system from 2003-07. Cossins began his coaching career in 2000 and in 2001-02 was the Major League bullpen catcher for Kansas City. The former catcher played eight minor league seasons (1993-2000) in the Rangers, Yankees and Expos organizations.
Derek Johnson returns for his third year as the Cubs’ minor league pitching coordinator following 11 seasons (2002-12) at Vanderbilt University as the team’s pitching coach, including the last three as the school’s associate head coach/pitching coach. He earned National Pitching Coach of the Year honors in 2004 and National Assistant Coach of the Year honors in 2010. In 2011, he helped lead the school to its first-ever College World Series appearance. While at Vanderbilt, he helped develop six pitchers that were selected in the first round/supplemental first round of the MLB Draft, including David Price.
Anthony Iapoce begins his third season as the organization’s special assistant to the GM and player development, overseeing the minor league hitting program while contributing to additional projects within the organization. Iapoce spent the 2010-12 seasons as roving hitting coordinator for Toronto and served as the hitting coach for the Marlins’ Single-A Jupiter affiliate for two seasons (2008-09). A former outfielder, he played 11 minor league seasons in the Brewers and Marlins organizations, as well as in independent ball, after being selected by Milwaukee in the 33rd round of the 1994 draft.
Jose Flores returns for his third season as minor league infield coordinator and his 15th year as a coach or manager. Flores spent two seasons as manager of Puerto Rico’s national team (2011-12) and was a bench coach for the Ponce Leones in Puerto Rico’s baseball league (2010). He handled similar duties for the Gaguas Criollos baseball club in 2008, the same year he managed the Cleveland Indians’ Dominican Summer League team. After playing six seasons in Houston’s minor league system (1990-95), he began his coaching career in the Puerto Rico Winter League (2001-06).
Dave Keller enters his 30th season as a minor league coach or manager, his 12th year in the Cubs organization and his first as minor league Latin America field coordinator. He managed Single-A Daytona in 2013-14 and led the club to the 2013 Florida State League title after serving as Iowa’s hitting coach in 2012. In 2011, he was the Cubs’ major league staff assistant after seven years (2004-10) as the organization’s minor league hitting coordinator. Keller was a major league staff assistant and bullpen catcher for Cleveland from 2001-03 following two years as the organization’s minor league hitting coordinator. He managed in the minor leagues in the Cincinnati (1987-89), Cleveland (1990-94) and White Sox (1996) organizations, and was named the 1993 Carolina League Manager of the Year with Single-A Kinston. The former first baseman also played in the Reds organization for three seasons (1982-84).
Mike Mason begins his second season as assistant pitching coordinator after spending the previous six years as Triple-A Iowa’s pitching coach. He has 23 years of coaching experience following a seven-year big league playing career with Texas (1982-87), the Cubs (1987) and Minnesota (1988). Prior to joining the Cubs, he served as Kansas City’s minor league pitching coordinator (2004-07) and also handled interim pitching coach duties at the major league level in 2004. Mason served as pitching coach for Philadelphia’s Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre club in 2002-03 after serving as Kansas City’s minor league pitching instructor the previous two seasons (2000-01). He began his coaching career in Kansas City’s minor league system from 1991-99.
Tom Beyers returns for his 16th season with the Cubs organization and his first as the minor league assistant hitting coordinator, following two seasons as Single-A Kane County’s hitting coach. He was the Short-Season hitting coordinator in 2012 following one season as the minor league hitting coordinator in 2011. Beyers joined the Cubs in 2000 and was a minor league manager or coach for 11 seasons, including manager of Single-A Boise in 2004, a season in which he led the club to the Northwest League title and earned league Manager of the Year honors. A former outfielder, he spent his first 21 seasons in professional baseball with the Dodgers as a player, coach or manager after being selected by Los Angeles in the 15th round of the 1979 Draft.
Rey Fuentes begins his third season with the organization and his first as Latin coordinator, mental skills program, following two years as cultural programs coordinator. In this role, he oversees all educational classes and mental skills programs for the Cubs’ Latin American players. Prior to joining the Cubs, he coached and taught physical education in the Orlando area. Fuentes graduated from Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida, in 2002 with a degree in Exceptional Student Education.
Darnell McDonald begins his first season as the organization’s mental skills program coordinator and will work with players throughout all levels of the farm system. McDonald served as a Cubs baseball operations assistant in 2014 following his retirement in April after 16 professional seasons. He was selected by Baltimore in the first round of the 1997 Draft and played for the Cubs in 2013.
Doug Jarrow begins his eighth season as Chicago’s minor league strength and conditioning coordinator. He previously spent five years in the Dodgers organization, including 2003-05 as the minor league strength and conditioning coordinator and 2006-07 as the Major League strength coach. Jarrow began his career as a minor league strength and conditioning coach with Tampa Bay in 1998 and Pittsburgh in 1999.
Nick Frangella begins his 12th season with the organization and his second as head minor league athletic training and performance coordinator. He spent the previous two seasons as Triple-A Iowa’s athletic trainer.
Chuck Baughman enters his 15th year with the Cubs organization and his second season as assistant athletic training coordinator. He spent the previous eight seasons as a rehabilitation coordinator and joined the organization as Short-Season Boise’s athletic trainer in 2001. His career in professional baseball began in 1999 when he was the athletic trainer for Single-A Clinton in Cincinnati’s system.
Rick Tronerud returns for his 20th year with the Cubs and his second as minor league rehab pitching coordinator. He spent the previous 13 seasons with Rookie League Mesa, serving as the club’s rehab pitching coach. Tronerud joined the organization in 1996 as the pitching coach at Rookie-League Fort Myers after pitching (1972-81) and coaching (1982-89) in Oakland’s farm system.
Marty Pevey returns for his third season as manager of the Triple-A Iowa Cubs. (Photo courtesy of Iowa Cubs)
The Cubs announced their minor league managers and coaching staffs for the 2015 season on Wednesday. A majority of the managers are familiar faces, but many of the coaches are new to the organization or to their affiliate. Below are the staffs, broken down by club:
Manager: Marty Pevey
Pitching Coach: Mike Cather
Hitting Coach/Asst.: Brian Harper/Leo Perez
Trainer: Scott Barringer
Marty Pevey begins his third season as Triple-A Iowa’s manager after serving as Chicago’s catching coordinator for three seasons from 2010-12. Pevey was the manager at Single-A Peoria in 2009, his first season with the organization. He has a combined 31 years of professional experience (13 years as a player and 18 years as a manager, coach or coordinator), and was named the 2009 Midwest League co-Manager of the Year. Joining Pevey at Iowa will be newly hired pitching coach, Mike Cather, who spent 2014 as Triple-A El Paso’s pitching coach in the Padres’ system. Cather enters his 10th season as a coach after six seasons in the Red Sox system and three seasons in the San Diego organization. Originally drafted by the Rangers in 1993, he pitched in parts of three seasons with the Braves from 1997-99. Brian Harper returns for his third season as Iowa’s hitting coach after managing Double-A Tennessee in 2011 and Single-A Daytona in 2012. A former catcher, Harper played 16 seasons in the majors with seven teams. Rounding out the coaching staff is former Cubs farmhand Leo Perez, who begins his seventh season as a coach in the organization and his first with Iowa. Scott Barringer returns for his second season as Iowa’s athletic trainer and his third in the Cubs organization.
Manager: Buddy Bailey
Pitching Coach: Storm Davis
Hitting Coach/Asst.: Desi Wilson/Guillermo Martinez
Trainer: Shane Nelson
Buddy Bailey begins his fourth-straight season (and fifth overall) as Tennessee’s manager after guiding the Smokies to a 214-203 (.513) mark in the last three seasons. Bailey spent three years as Daytona’s skipper prior to joining the Smokies, compiling a 215-196 (.523) record, including a 2011 Florida State League Championship. This will mark Bailey’s 27th year as a manager and his 10th with the organization. Storm Davis begins his third season with the organization and his second as Tennessee’s pitching coach after serving in the same role with Daytona in 2013. The former right-handed pitcher went 113-96 with a 4.02 ERA during a 13-year big league career. Desi Wilson, entering his eighth season with the organization, returns as the hitting coach for a third year after handling the same duties at Daytona in 2012. The only new member of the Smokies’ staff, Guillermo Martinez, joins as an assistant coach after serving in a similar role last season with Single-A Boise. Shane Nelson rounds out the staff as the team’s athletic trainer for the second-straight year.
Single-A Myrtle Beach
Manager: Mark Johnson
Pitching Coach: David Rosario
Hitting Coach/Asst.: Mariano Duncan/Chris Gutierrez
Trainer: Peter Fagan
Mark Johnson, now entering his fifth season in the organization, takes over as manager of the Cubs’ new Single-A affiliate, Myrtle Beach. He spent the last two seasons as manager at Single-A Kane County, where he led the 2014 Cougars to a 91-49 record and a Midwest League championship after sweeping through the playoffs with a 7-0 mark. Johnson began his managerial career in 2011 with Boise after enjoying a 17-year professional playing career that included 332 major league games with four clubs. Handling pitching coach duties at Myrtle Beach will be David Rosario, who is entering his 11th year in the Cubs’ system and served with Johnson last season at Kane County. Mariano Duncan returns for his third season as the club’s High-A hitting coach after serving the previous two campaigns as Tennessee’s hitting coach (2011-12). The 12-year major league veteran (1985-87, 1989-97) joined the Cubs in 2011 after spending the previous five seasons (2006-10) as the Dodgers’ major league first base coach. Rounding out the coaching staff is Chris Gutierrez, who began his coaching career last season as an assistant coach with Single-A Kane County. Peter Fagan returns to Myrtle Beach as the athletic trainer.
Single-A South Bend
Manager: Jimmy Gonzalez
Pitching Coach: Brian Lawrence
Hitting Coach/Asst.: Jesus Feliciano/Osmin Melendez
Trainer: Jonathan Fierro
Jimmy Gonzalez begins his second season as a manager in the organization, taking over the Cubs’ new Single-A affiliate in South Bend. He made his managerial debut last season with Rookie-League Mesa after serving as hitting coach with the club in 2013. A former catcher, Gonzalez played 14 minor league seasons after being selected in the first round of the 1991 Draft by Houston. Brian Lawrence enters his first season as South Bend’s pitching coach after serving in the same role with Boise in 2014. Lawrence made his coaching debut in 2012 in the Independent Frontier League and spent 2013 as pitching coach of Single-A Lake Elsinore in the Padres system. The former right-hander went 50-63 with a 4.19 ERA during a six-year big league career with the Padres and Mets. Jesus Feliciano moves up to South Bend after serving as the hitting coach last season at Boise in his debut year as a coach. He enjoyed a 16-year playing career from 1998-2013 and saw action in 54 games with the Mets in 2010. Osmin Melendez will serve as an assistant coach after coaching with Mesa last season and managing the Cubs Venezuela rookie league team in 2013. Jonathan Fierro begins his third season as an athletic trainer in the organization after serving in Kane County in 2014 and Boise in 2013.
Manager: Gary Van Tol
Pitching Coach: Anderson Tavares
Hitting Coach/Asst.: Ricardo Medina/Terrmel Sledge
Trainer: Mike McNulty
Gary Van Tol returns for his third season as the club’s Short Season-A manager, but he’ll take over a new affiliate, the Eugene Emeralds. Van Tol guided Boise to consecutive 41-35 records in his first two seasons, securing a playoff berth both years. Prior to becoming a manager, Van Tol served as bench coach in Boise for five years and has extensive experience as a coach in the college ranks, including as an assistant at his alma mater, Gonzaga. Joining the staff at Eugene will be pitching coach Anderson Tavares, who spent the last two seasons with Rookie-League Mesa. Tavares played in the Cubs system from 2000-05 and worked as a pitching coach with the Cubs Dominican Summer League team from 2007-12. Ricardo Medina enters his first season as hitting coach with Single-A Eugene after two years with Mesa. He has been involved in the Cubs organization since 1999 as a coach, manager or scout. A new addition to the organization, former major league outfielder Terrmel Sledge rounds out the coaching staff as an assistant coach. Mike McNulty joins Eugene as the team’s athletic trainer after serving in the same role last season with Mesa.
Rookie League Mesa
Manager: Carmelo Martinez
Pitching Coach: Ron Villone
Hitting Coach/Asst.: Oscar Bernard/Ty Wright
Trainer: Toby Williams
Carmelo Martinez enters his 18th season in the organization and begins his second stint as manager with Mesa after serving in the role from 1999-2003, and again in 2006. He has a career record of 159-185 (.462) as Mesa’s manager. Martinez previously served as the Cubs’ Latin America field coordinator for six seasons and played in the majors from 1983-91 with the Cubs, Padres, Phillies, Pirates, Royals and Reds. Ron Villone begins his fourth season as a coach in the Cubs organization and his first with Mesa. A former left-handed pitcher, he played in all or part of 15 major league seasons from 1995-2009 with 12 teams. Oscar Bernard begins his first season as the hitting coach for Mesa after spending the previous two seasons as the Dominican Cubs hitting coach. Ty Wright joins the staff as an assistant coach after an eight-year playing career, seven of which came in the Cubs system. Toby Williams begins his second season in the organization and his first as Mesa’s athletic trainer.
Manager: Juan Cabreja
Pitching Coach: Armando Gabino
Hitting Coach/Asst.: Claudio Almonte
Trainer: Jose Alvarez
Juan Cabreja returns for a second-consecutive year as manager of the Dominican Cubs after previously managing the club from 2007-08 and managing the Cubs’ second Dominican club in 2012. He led the team to a 42-28 mark last season and has a 244-204 (.545) overall managerial record. Armando Gabino enters his first season as a pitching coach in the organization after a playing career that saw him pitch in seven games over two seasons with the Twins and Orioles. Claudio Almonte also joins the organization as the Dominican Cubs hitting coach after managing the Mariners Dominican Summer League team in 2014. Jose Alvarez begins his second season as the club’s athletic trainer.
Manager: Pedro Gonzalez
Pitching Coach: Eduardo Villacis
Hitting Coach/Asst.: Franklin Blanco
Trainer: Arnoldo Goite
Pedro Gonzalez begins his second year as the Venezuelan Cubs manager after going 28-40 in his first season. He will be joined by pitching coach Eduardo Villacis and hitting coach Franklin Blanco. Villacis enters his first season with the organization, while Blanco begins his ninth year with the Cubs and his third-straight season in Venezuela. Arnoldo Goite returns as the club’s athletic trainer.
The Chicago Cubs today acquired right-handed pitching prospect Matt Brazis from the Seattle Mariners for outfielder Justin Ruggiano.
Brazis, 25, is 8-6 with 14 saves and a 2.89 ERA in 100 minor league relief appearances covering three seasons in the Mariners minor league system. He split the 2014 campaign between Single-A High Desert and Double-A Jackson, going 4-1 with six saves and a 2.36 ERA in 40 appearances. Brazis struck out 84 batters and walked only 18 in 72.1 innings pitched.
The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Brazis was originally selected by the Mariners in the 28th round of the 2012 Draft out of Boston College.
Ruggiano, 32, batted .281 with six home runs and 28 RBI in 81 games for the Cubs last year. He was acquired from the Miami Marlins for outfielder Brian Bogusevic on Dec. 12, 2013. The move also clears a spot on the Cubs 40-man roster.
(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
The biggest move of baseball’s offseason became official Monday when the Cubs and pitcher Jon Lester agreed to terms on a six-year contract that includes a vesting option for the 2021 season.
Lester, 30, is a three-time All-Star and a two-time World Series champion during his nine seasons with the Boston Red Sox (2006-14) and Oakland Athletics (2014). He has a pair of top five Cy Young Award finishes (2010 and 2014, both fourth), four top 10 finishes for the ERA title and six top 10 finishes in wins. The left-hander has made more than 30 starts in each of the last seven seasons, eclipsed 200 innings in six of the past seven and has three seasons with more than 200 strikeouts. His .634 career winning percentage (116-67) ranks fifth among all active pitchers.
The Cubs beat out teams like Boston, the Dodgers and San Francisco, who were all reported to have offered the southpaw significant deals. In the end though, the steps the Cubs had taken to produce sustained success swayed the starter.
“I believe in the plan and the thing that’s in place right now for the future of the Cubs,” Lester said. “Obviously leaving a place that you’ve already won and the comfort of that it’s difficult, but also you can relish in the process of enjoying the chance of winning a World Series for a franchise that never has just adds that little extra for me.”
Overall, Lester is 116-67 with a 3.58 ERA (635 ER/1,596.0 IP) in 253 major league appearances, all but one as a starting pitcher. Among big league left-handed pitchers active at the end of the 2014 campaign, he ranks best with an average of only 0.82 home runs per nine innings, second with 8.22 strikeouts per nine innings, third in ERA, fourth in wins and WHIP (1.28), and fifth with 1,457 strikeouts and 156 quality starts. He threw the 18th no-hitter in Red Sox history on May 19, 2008, a 7-0 victory against the Kansas City Royals at Fenway Park.
A World Champion with the Red Sox in 2007 and 2013, Lester is 6-4 with a 2.57 ERA in 14 postseason appearances, 12 as a starter. He has won all three of his World Series starts, posting a 0.43 ERA, and was the winning pitcher in the clinching Game 4 in 2007 in Colorado.
Lester turned in one of the best seasons of his career in 2014 when he went 16-11 with a 2.46 ERA in 32 starts with the Red Sox and Athletics. He earned an All-Star nod and recorded his lowest single-season ERA, which ranked fourth in the American League. He struck out 220 batters and walked only 48, good for a 4.6 strikeout-to-walk ratio that ranked seventh in the league. Lester was 10-7 with a 2.52 ERA in 21 starts for the Red Sox before being traded to Oakland on July 31, where he went 6-4 with an even better 2.35 ERA in 11 starts.
Eptsein and current Cubs General Manager Jed Hoyer were members of Boston’s front office for the majority of Lester’s tenure, with Epstein serving as general manager from 2003-11. Along with Lester’s success on the field, Epstein said he respects the pitcher’s drive and character, which were equally important attributes that led to the signing.
“He’s focused, competitive, hard working, intense and now fully mature. I think he’s got good self-awareness and understands the group concept,” said Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein. “And he’s at his best in the most important moments, I think because he’s so driven and focused and not swayed on outside variables like pressure.”
The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Lester was originally selected by the Red Sox in the second round of the 2002 Draft (57th overall) out of high school and was in the big leagues just four years later at the age of 22. He made his debut on June 10, 2006, and made 15 starts before being diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma in late-August. Lester was declared cancer-free in December of that year and returned to the big leagues on July 23, 2007, going a perfect 4-0 with a 4.57 ERA in 12 outings (11 starts) down the stretch to help the Red Sox to the playoffs and a World Series championship.
Lester began his run of seven straight seasons with more than 30 starts in 2008 and has posted 15 or more victories in six of those seasons, including a career-high 19 wins in 2010, his first of two-straight All-Star seasons. He struck out 225 batters in consecutive seasons in 2009 and 2010, his single-season career bests. In 2013, Lester went 4-1 with a 1.56 ERA in five postseason starts to lead the Red Sox to the 2013 World Series championship.
Photo by Stephen Green
The Cubs and right-handed pitcher Jason Hammel officially agreed to terms on a two-year contract that includes a club option for the 2017 season on Friday.
The 32-year-old Hammel joins the Cubs organization for the second time this year, as he signed a one-year deal with the club for the 2014 campaign in February. The right-hander went 8-5 with a 2.98 ERA (36 ER/108.2 IP) in 17 starts with the Cubs, striking out 104 and walking only 23 in 108.2 innings pitched, before being traded to Oakland with fellow right-hander Jeff Samardzija on July 5 for infielder Addison Russell, outfielder Billy McKinney and right-hander Dan Straily. With the Cubs, Hammel limited opponents to a .222 batting average and turned in a 1.02 WHIP.
On the year, Hammel combined to go 10-11 with a 3.47 ERA (68 ER/176.1 IP) in 30 outings, all but one as a starter, between the Cubs and the A’s. After dropping his first four starts with Oakland in July, Hammel rebounded to post a 2.86 ERA in four August starts and a 2.20 ERA in five September outings (four starts) to help Oakland to a postseason berth. With this move, he also reunites with manager Joe Maddon, whom he pitched for in Tampa Bay from 2006-08.
Hammel is 59-70 with four saves and a 4.60 ERA in 245 major league appearances (187 starts) with Tampa Bay (2006-08), Colorado (2009-11), Baltimore (2012-13), the Cubs (2013) and Oakland (2014). He has three 10-win seasons to his credit (2009, 2010 and 2013) and has made 20 or more starts in each of the last six seasons, including two years with 30 or more starts (2009, 2010).
The 6-foot-6, 225-pound Hammel was originally selected by Tampa Bay in the 10th round of the 2002 Draft and made his big league debut with the club in 2006 at the age of 23. He is a native of Greenville, South Carolina, and graduated from South Kitsap High School in Port Orchard, Washington. He pitched at Treasure Valley Community College in Oregon.