Dodgers acquire reliever Chris Martin in trade with Cubs

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Chicago Cubs' Chris Martin pitches during the eighth inning of a baseball game, Sunday, July 24, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Right-handed reliever Chris Martin, 36, has a 4.31 ERA this season in 34 games. (Matt Rourke / Associated Press)

It didn’t rock the boat, but the Dodgers are hoping their first pre-trade deadline acquisition Saturday can help steady the ship down the stretch.

The team added veteran right-handed reliever Chris Martin in a deal with the Chicago Cubs, a person with knowledge of the situation confirmed, adding an experienced arm to a bullpen waiting to get several other key relievers back from injuries.

The trade was more functional than flashy.

In 34 games this year, the 36-year-old has a 4.31 ERA but also one of the best strikeout rates (30.1%) and walk rates (3%) in the major leagues. He relies mostly on a mid-90s mph fastball, but has six total pitches in his arsenal. He has recent postseason experience, having been with the Atlanta Braves the last three Octobers.

"A guy that's a strike thrower, that punches guys out, puts the ball on the ground," manager Dave Roberts said, "we're excited to have him."

In return, the Dodgers are sending the Cubs outfielder Zach McKinstry, the little-used left-handed reserve who flashed potential as a rookie at the start of last year but had since slid down the organizational depth chart, making just two big league starts this year.

Though the Dodgers have the sixth-best ERA among relievers, their bullpen is in uncertain shape heading into the season’s final months — unsure of exactly whom they might be able to rely on come the playoffs.

Right-handers Blake Treinen (shoulder) and Danny Duffy (flexor tendon) have begun facing hitters again but are several weeks away from returning to action.

Brusdar Graterol (shoulder) has been out almost three weeks as the team continues to be careful with his recovery.

Left-hander Victor González (elbow) is still expected to be back, though his timeline remains unclear. Right-hander Tommy Kahnle (forearm) more of a toss-up to return before the end of the year. Set-up man Daniel Hudson (torn ACL) has been lost for the season.

The Dodgers are facing questions at closer, too, with veteran Craig Kimbrel continuing to struggle during an up-and-down year.

Evan Phillips, Yency Almonte, Caleb Ferguson and Alex Vesia have stepped into leverage roles in the meantime.

If Walker Buehler and Dustin May come back healthy before the end of the season, the Dodgers could have a surplus of starting pitchers who could help cover innings.

With so many unknowns looming down the stretch, however, the addition of another reliable — if unspectacular — reliever made sense for the front office.

Martin fit the bill.

"We’ve got guys that are coming back, but there’s no guarantees," Roberts said. "So certainly, he’s a high floor raiser, in the sense of performing in big spots, a veteran player."

Chris Martin delivers for the Chicago Cubs against the Cincinnati Reds on July 23.
Chris Martin delivers for the Chicago Cubs against the Cincinnati Reds on July 23. (Paul Vernon / Associated Press)

Martin didn’t make his MLB debut until 2014 when he was 27 years old. After struggling with the Rockies and New York Yankees the next two years, he went overseas to try to revive his career, spending two seasons in Japan with the Nippon-Ham Fighters — where Angels star Shohei Ohtani was a teammate.

Martin returned to the major leagues with the Texas Rangers in 2018, then was traded to the Braves ahead of the 2019 deadline.

He had his most successful season in 2020, posting a 1.00 ERA in 19 regular-season games and a 2.25 ERA in nine postseason games — though gave up the deciding run in Game 7 of the NLCS to the Dodgers on a Cody Bellinger home run.

After posting a 3.95 ERA last year, Martin signed a one-year, $2.5-million deal with the Cubs this offseason.

While he struggled with the home run ball this year, giving up five in 31 1/3 innings, the Dodgers like his ability to pound the strike zone and pitch to batters on either side of the plate.

Martin certainly won't be the most notable name moved in the next week, and might not even be the biggest acquisition the Dodgers make before Tuesday's deadline, with superstars such as Juan Soto of the Washington Nationals, the Angels' Ohtani and several other bigger names potentially available.

“I’ve been surprised many times in the past, pleasantly surprised," Roberts said when asked if he was expecting more moves before Tuesday. "But as I said all along, I really like this ball club. My job is to keep these guys moving forward. So that’s what I’m gonna do and if something happens, we’ll read and react.”

And for now, the team is hopeful Martin can play a role over the remainder of the season, giving them one more arm to help solidify the bullpen as they look to October and the playoffs.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.