Jason Motte: A small catch that could pay off for Cubs

The Cubs offseason acquisition of Jason Motte, the former Cardinals closer, didn’t make a big splash. More like a ripple.
Overshadowing the one-year, $4.5 million deal was the club’s big catch just days before: the franchise-record six-year, $155 million deal that put free-agent starter Jon Lester in a Cubs uniform.

Motte, in comparison, was a little fish. While the North Siders were introducing Lester to the Cubs’ faithful at a downtown press conference with great fanfare, Motte was quietly taking a physical in Chicago and inking his deal with the Cubs.
While it might be easy to overlook the addition of the 32-year-old reliever, it is also easy to see why the Cubs decided to take a chance and reel him in.

In many ways, Motte is a classic Theo Epstein-Jed Hoyer pickup: a buy-low acquisition with a potentially high ceiling.
Drafted by the rival Cardinals in the 19th round of 2003 Major League draft as a catcher, Motte converted to pitching in 2006. He played a key role in the Cards’ 2011 World Series championship run, saving five postseason games. In 2012, he led the National League in saves with 42. So he’s a proven winner – or saver, which is something the Cubs clearly covet.

The Cubs were able to get Motte at a relatively low cost because of what happened to him after 2012. He missed all of 2013 because of season-ending Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ligament in his elbow.
Motte returned to the Cards’ bullpen in May 2014. However, he struggled for much of the season and was ultimately left off the Cardinals’ postseason roster.

Despite Motte’s disappointing 2014, baseball pundits are not willing to write him off just yet and almost universally agree that for the Cubs, he’s a risk worth taking.
At the time word of the Motte deal broke, veteran Chicago baseball writer Bruce Levine called Motte “an under-the-radar signing who could pay big dividends for the Cubs next season,” saying “he will support and push Cubs closer Hector Rondon for the job in 2015.”

Al Yellon of Bleed Cubbie Blue noted that Motte’s 4.29 ERA in 29 appearances out of the bullpen in 2014 was bloated by “a couple of bad outings” and that he didn’t give up any runs in 19 of the games.
In the assessment of RantSports, the acquisition of Motte “is a great low-risk, high-reward deal for the Cubs.”
Even in St. Louis, where Motte was a fan favorite, the sentiment seems to be that the Cubs made a smart move. “If you’re the Cubs, signing Motte is a no-brainer,” wrote the St. Louis-based 101Sports.com, calling Motte “a great clubhouse guy with tremendous leadership.”
Exactly what you’re looking for when you’re the Cubs and you have a bullpen stocked deeply with young talent, and need a veteran presence to lead them.

Look closely and you see a lot of the things the Cubs surely saw in Lester in Motte as well.
You have character. Like Lester, who started his own foundation, NVRQT, short for “Never Quit,” to support pediatric cancer research, Motte runs two foundations, the Jason Motte Foundation, and a cancer awareness foundation called “Strikeout Childhood Cancer.”

You have winners. Both Lester and Motte have proven themselves in the games that matter most. They’ve both been on the mound in the World Series and came away victorious.
Both possess those intangibles that go beyond raw talent.
Once the Cubs closed the deal for Lester to take charge of that starting rotation it is easy to see why they set their sights on Motte to guide their young bullpen. They were willing to take a chance on him because he’s the kind of player who’s worth taking a chance on.
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Did you know Jason Motte’s beard has its own Twitter account? Follow it at

https://twitter.com/themottebeard

Photo: Jason Motte / Kevin Ward / CC BY 2.0 / Alteration: Cropped