New Cubs bring high expectations to the North Side
Lester, Montero, others hope to help end playoff drought for Chicago
By Carrie Muskat
MESA, Ariz. -- Of all the additions to the Cubs roster for 2015, the most intriguing new face will be manager Joe Maddon. The two-time American League manager of the year was the first free agent the team signed in the offseason, replacing Rick Renteria, who was dismissed after one year and a 73-89 record.
Maddon isn't the only one being fitted for a Cubs uniform for the first time. Here is the second in a series of Spring Training previews, leading up to Feb. 19 when pitchers and catchers report to Arizona: The new Cubs on the 2015 roster.
LHP Jon Lester: Lester signed the largest contract in franchise history (six years, $155 million) and rejoins Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, who were all together in Boston. Lester, 31, may be 0-for-36 at the plate in his career, but Cubs execs stressed to the lefty that he could be on the mound at Wrigley Field for the deciding game of the World Series. His signing signals a shift for the team from rebuild mode to contender.
LHP Drake Britton: Claimed off waivers on Feb. 4, Britton, 25, could fill a spot in the bullpen as a situational lefty. Epstein and Hoyer know Britton well, too. They drafted him in 2007 when with the Red Sox.
RHP Jason Hammel: Hammel, 32, is on the new guy list for the second straight year. The Cubs signed him to a one-year contract in February 2014, but flipped the right-hander in a trade with the Athletics last July. In December, Hammel re-signed with the Cubs, getting a two-year, $20 million deal this time. He did well in his first stint, going 8-5 with a 2.98 ERA in 17 starts.
RHP Jason Motte: Motte, 32, has spent his entire career with the Cardinals. Now, he'll be pitching for their rivals after signing a one-year deal. The right-hander led the NL with 42 saves in 2012, then missed all of 2013 after needing Tommy John surgery. Hector Rondon is projected as the closer but Motte also will provide late inning relief and be a valuable veteran presence.
C Miguel Montero: The Cubs tried to sign free agent Russell Martin, and when that fell through, they traded for a veteran catcher, sending two Minor League pitchers to the Diamondbacks for Montero, 31. The Cubs don't need him to bat .286, as he did in 2012, but are hoping for better numbers than last season when Montero hit .243.
C David Ross: Lester thrived with Ross, 37, behind the plate, so why not sign the free agent catcher? Ross, who signed a two-year, $5 million deal, has a career .239 average playing in the NL compared to .195 in the AL. Where this leaves incumbent catcher Welington Castillo remains to be seen.
INF Tommy La Stella: The Cubs like La Stella's ability to get on base, and traded Arodys Vizcaino to the Braves to get the left-handed hitting infielder. Maddon likes to use everyone on the roster, and La Stella, 26, should find playing time in the infield.
OF Chris Denorfia: Denorfia, 34, also is projected to fill a spot on the Cubs' bench. He has a career .292 average against left-handed pitchers, .257 vs. right-handers. He's only played 19 games at Wrigley Field, but is a career 19-for-56 (.339).
OF Dexter Fowler: Fowler is expected to be the new lead-off man. Acquired from the Astros in a trade for Luis Valbuena and Dan Straily, Fowler, 28, has a career .271/.345/.459 slash line hitting first. He'll find playing center field at Wrigley Field much different than in Denver or Houston, and perhaps, more manageable.