The Cubs have been searching for a right-handed bat in the days and weeks leading up to Monday's Trade Deadline. Chicago's production against lefty pitching has suffered this season due to a combination of injuries and inconsistency.
On Sunday, the Cubs reeled in what they hope will be part of the solution in José Martínez, acquiring the corner outfielder and first baseman from the Rays in exchange for a combination of players to be named later or cash consideration. Catcher Josh Phegley was designated for assignment to vacate a spot on the 40-man and active rosters.
Not long before the trade was officially announced by both Chicago and Tampa Bay, Cubs manager David Ross mentioned the need for a right-handed bat in his pregame Zoom chat with media.
"I think that's the question mark still," Ross said, "finding that right-handed bat that may be missing a little bit, that pushes everybody down. I still think our best is yet to come offensively, for sure."
The context for Ross' comment was centered on the ongoing comebacks for both third baseman Kris Bryant (left wrist) and Steven Souza Jr. (right hamstring), who are both on the 10-day injured list.
On Sunday, they were at Wrigley Field continuing to face pitching off a machine. Come Monday, they will head back to the South Bend, Ind., alternate training site to get more live at-bats, following getting five ABs apiece there on Friday. The Cubs have not yet announced a timetable for a return for either player.
The absence of Bryant (.947 OPS and 168 wRC+ against lefties this year) and Souza (.775 OPS and 121 wRC+ off left-handers in '20) has compounded a problem against southpaws, but Martínez might be able to help.
On the season, the Cubs had a collective .659 OPS and 84 wRC+ against left-handed pitching, entering Sunday. While Martínez had underperformed in that regard to date this year (.718 OPS), he has a career slash line of .319/.392/.554 and a 153 wRC+ off lefties.
"He gave us nightmares for years," Cubs outfielder Ian Happ said of Martínez's time playing for St. Louis. "He was one of the guys in that lineup that, every time he came up, you felt like he was going to put the ball in play, going to get a hit, going to do damage in a big spot. So, definitely excited about the acquisition. He's going to bolster us against left-handers for sure, too."
Overall this season, Martínez has hit .239 with two homers, 10 RBIs and a .717 OPS while bouncing between designated hitter (13 games) and first base (six) for the Rays. In his previous MLB seasons with St. Louis, he spent the majority of his time between right and left field.
With the Cubs, Martínez could offer another DH option, especially with switch-hitting catcher Victor Caratini (.611 OPS and 82 wRC+) not performing well against lefties so far. Martínez could also spell Kyle Schwarber or Jason Heyward in the corner-outfield spots.
"I haven't set a role; I don't want to do that quite yet," Ross said. "I want to meet the kid and talk to him a little bit. But, yes, he's hit his entire career, and we do have a DH spot that makes some sense. He's a really good hitter, and he has hit lefties."
Another component of the trade is the fact that the 32-year-old Martínez will not be eligible for free agency until after the 2022 season, giving the Cubs some future flexibility. As far as the trade return for the Rays, Chicago could send two players to be named later or combine a player with cash considerations.
Ross said he trusted that Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and the rest of the team's front office would continue to explore upgrades in the hours leading up to Monday's 3 p.m. CT Deadline.
"I love our roster. I like our guys," Ross said. "Jed and Theo do a good job of finding out where our holes are. So they're working hard to try to plug some some spaces."
Cubs add Ramos on Minors deal
The Cubs have reached an agreement on a Minor League contract with righty AJ Ramos, who will report to South Bend in the coming days. Ramos, 33, has not pitched since 2018, when a shoulder issue limited him to 28 games with the Mets. From 2014-16, he had a 2.41 ERA with 72 saves in 206 games for the Marlins, making an All-Star team in '16. He has a 3.07 ERA in 374 career MLB games.
"I know AJ," Ross said. "He was working his way back. Talked to some of the Dodger guys -- they liked what they saw. The changeup is as good as it gets. It's kind of like a left-handed curveball. It's got good, true depth. He's a guy that's been in the back end of a 'pen. The moment's not going to be too big for him. Hopefully he gets to South Bend, has a good showing and we'll see what happens."