CHICAGO -- Though the Chicago Cubs lost out on their bid for free-agent catcher Russell Martin early last week, it doesn’t mean they weren’t in the hunt until the end. Martin’s Chicago-based agent, Matt Colleran, says it was neck-and-neck between the Cubs and the team Martin eventually signed with, the Toronto Blue Jays.
"There were times throughout the process where it was Toronto and the Cubs, 1 and 2," Colleran recalled this past weekend. "They probably flipped spots in that process. One day the Cubs [were] going a little ahead, and the next Toronto was ahead. When we got into the [last] weekend the dollars started to come into play, and Toronto was just super aggressive with their approach."
Colleran actually indicated the Blue Jays were the most aggressive team from the start of free agency, as he received a call from them at "9:01 a.m. on the very first day." But the Cubs were nearly as aggressive, and their face-to-face meeting couldn't have gone better, according to the agent.
"Those guys are incredibly professional," Colleran said of the Cubs' front office. "The presentation was professional and on point … Russ came away super impressed."
The presentation highlighted the Cubs' future and featured both current and former players, but at the end of the day the Blue Jays simply wouldn't be denied. Last Sunday morning is when Toronto's general manager Alex Anthopoulos basically told Colleran the Blue Jays were getting his client one way or another.
"He flat-out said that [in the] morning," Colleran stated. "He said it in a way that he was determined and that he was going to be in it until the end. He was aggressive throughout the entire process, so that statement didn't surprise me."
By that evening, Martin had agreed to a 5-year, $82 million deal. The price tag was simply too steep for the Cubs, who were of the mindset that a four-year deal was their limit. At some point in the process, it became clear to Colleran that Martin's former team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, couldn't afford to have him back, and GM Neal Huntington intimated as much in interviews late in the final week before his former catcher signed. But just days before the agreement with the Blue Jays, the Cubs sounded like a team that had hopes of landing him -- without mentioning Martin by name -- while discussing the development of 2014 first-round pick, Kyle Schwarber.
"Catchers take a little bit longer to develop in the minor leagues, and when they break in, they break in gradually and it's important for them to have good mentors," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said at the general manager meetings in Arizona. "He could very much be in our plans, and it would still make sense to sign a catcher if it's the right catcher out there."
Martin was that right guy, but not at Brian McCann-type money. McCann's 5-year contract for $85 million with the New York Yankees last offseason was the deal Martin's camp used for comparison, according to Colleran. He was the only comparable catcher who actually made it to free agency, though McCann is one year younger.
"We wanted to get close," Colleran said.
And the Blue Jays were a willing participant. Colleran indicated having the best free-agent catcher is a little different from other positions. It's why a deal was able to get done so early in the offseason.
"I sensed that things were going to move because each team involved in it was not waiting for something else to happen to get to Russell," Colleran explained.
In other words, going after Martin wasn't contingent on anything else the Cubs were doing. They wanted him, as did the Los Angeles Dodgers and Pirates, but only the Blue Jays "stepped up to the plate."
"They took the lead in everything," Colleran said.
And what if the offers by the Cubs and Blue Jays were equal?
"He never had to answer the question because of where it [the money] went," Colleran said.