This offseason, the former St. Louis Cardinals closer inked a one-year, $4.5 million deal with the Chicago Cubs – bringing his talents to the other side of one of professional sports’ most storied rivalries. He’s fallen out of favor amongst most baseball fans given his injury issues from the past few years, but the right-hander represents a diamond in the rough for Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer.
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Now, before I delve into this further – I have to just put this out there. Heading into the season, there is absolutely no reason to believe that Hector Rondon won’t break camp as the team’s closer (more on that here)- but as Cubs fans know, you can never say never – especially in baseball.
Last season, Motte appeared in 29 contests with the Cardinals, struggling to a 4.68 ERA and 6.49 FIP – which is troubling, to say the least. To be fair, he’s battled injuries in each of the past two seasons – which has kept him from maintaining his league-leading form of 2012 when he turned heads at the St. Louis closer.
That year, the former 19th-round pick posted a 2.75 earned run average across 67 games – nailing down a league-leading 42 games in the process. 2012 proved to be the best season of Motte’s career (at least to this point) as he averaged a whole-season career-best 10.8 strikeouts per nine and 5.06 SO/BB ratio.
Now that he’s worn out his welcome in St. Louis, Motte has nothing but low expectations and endless possibilities in front of him in Chicago, where he feels the team is ready to contend.
"“It’s one of those things, you can see they have a good group of young guys,” Motte told Sporting News. “They did a lot of stuff this offseason. That’s one of the reasons why when my agent asked me if I was interested, I said, ‘Yeah, if they’re interested in me, that’d be awesome.’”"
For argument sake, let’s say that, for whatever reason, Rondon stumbles in April. This season is different from years’ past when expectations were low and relievers would have a longer leash. First-year skipper Joe Maddon, as well as clubhouse leader Anthony Rizzo, have went out on a limb, promising the NL Central in 2015.
The Cubs have several options waiting in the wings, as well as setup man Pedro Strop and right-hander Neil Ramirez, but Motte is the only one with real big league closing experience. Given the work pitching coach Chris Bosio has turned in with countless pitchers over the past few seasons, a change of scenery may pay huge dividends for Motte, who is heading into his age 33 season.
If he’s healthy, there’s no reason the right-hander cannot re-emerge as one of the best relievers in the entire National League. Given the talent on the Cubs’ roster and the subsequent save opportunities that could land in his lap, Jason Motte may not be among the Lee Smith and Bruce Sutter-esque closers in team history, but don’t be shocked if he ends up making a name for himself in the Windy City.