Charting David Robertson's journey back to Chicago after injury stalled his MLB career

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Cubs relief pitcher David Robertson follows through on a pitch during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, April 12, 2022. The Cubs won 2-1.

    Chicago Cubs relief pitcher David Robertson follows through on a pitch during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, April 12, 2022. The Cubs won 2-1. Associated Press

  • Chicago White Sox closer David Robertson, left, celebrates as he talks with catcher Geovany Soto after the White Sox defeated the Kansas City Royals 5-2 in a baseball game Wednesday, April 26, 2017, in Chicago.

    Chicago White Sox closer David Robertson, left, celebrates as he talks with catcher Geovany Soto after the White Sox defeated the Kansas City Royals 5-2 in a baseball game Wednesday, April 26, 2017, in Chicago. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 5/15/2022 5:07 PM

Curt Schilling, Alex Rodriguez, David Robertson.

Not exactly three guys you'd throw into the same sentence very often, but they all have one remarkable thing in common: each negotiated his own contract with Jed Hoyer.

 

Schilling and Rodriguez did it in 2003 -- although Rodriguez's reworked deal was nixed by the players' association -- and Robertson, who leads the Cubs with 5 saves this season, pulled it off on March 16.

"It's been a long time that I've dealt with a player like that," said Hoyer, the Cubs' president of baseball operations. "It's funny when a guy's giving you his own sales pitch and negotiating with you and there's no middle man whatsoever.

"He was really well-prepared."

Hoyer and Theo Epstein's negotiation with Schilling was an interesting one, with Schilling leaving the room for "an hour or so before responding."

"After we were done with the deal," Hoyer told SawxHeads.com, "I went into his office to find a quiet place to type up the final terms. On Curt's desk was 'Negotiating for Dummies' or 'My First Negotiation' or some such book. Theo and I just cracked up."

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Robertson didn't need that kind of instruction, as this was the third straight contract he completed without an agent. The 37-year-old father of three will make $3.5 million on the one-year deal, with the chance to add $1.5 million in incentives.

It's been money well spent by Hoyer, as Robertson has allowed just 2 runs and 3 hits, while striking out 16 in 12 innings.

Rough road

Robertson began his career in 2008 with the Yankees, winning a World Series with them in 2009. After working mainly as the eighth-inning setup man behind Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera, Robertson racked up 39 saves in New York in 2014, then recorded 84 more with the White Sox from 2015-17.

After another short stint with the Yankees, Robertson got rid of his agent and negotiated a two-year, $23 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies on January 3, 2019.

"It was a great spot," Robertson said. "It was a good team that was ready to win."

But then disaster struck.

During a 2-inning relief appearance in Miami on April 14, 2019, Robertson's arm "seized up on the mound."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

He immediately knew this was more than just soreness -- that he'd really hurt himself. Robertson tried rehabbing for months, but finally opted to have Tommy John surgery on Aug. 17, 2019. It was a more complicated surgery than some, too, as Robertson also had "flexor issues."

Robertson then pushed his rehab too hard -- but only because he felt obligated to give the Phillies some return on their investment.

"I'd never been injured before and been on the DL for maybe 40, 50 days in my entire career," said Robertson, who was placed on the IL last Monday with no designation, meaning it is likely COVID-related. "And I can't stand it. I want to play, so I was trying to find a way back in and I didn't want to disappoint the Philadelphia Phillies.

"They gave me a great opportunity, a great contract, and I wanted to prove to them I was able to play for them. Just didn't happen."

Anybody need a pitcher?

Robertson did not want his career to end because of an injury, so he did some showcases and had a few offers last spring. But he wasn't going to take a substandard deal, so he passed on all of them.

"Didn't think they were worth what I was going to bring to the table," Robertson said.

So was he done? Not quite.

Robertson's path back to the majors included a three-day stint with the High Point Rockers, an independent team in North Carolina, and a 2-inning outing with a men's league team in Newport, Rhode Island. Those appearances helped Robertson prepare to pitch for the U.S. in the 2021 Olympics in Yokohama, Japan. The U.S. took home the silver medal, losing to Japan 2-0 in the gold medal game.

"I had a lot of fun," Robertson said. "I got to spend a lot of time around my family and kids. The Olympics was an incredible experience, even though it was during COVID and we weren't able to go out and explore much. It was something I'm glad I got the opportunity to do."

Now major-league teams were REALLY interested in Robertson, and he ended up signing with Tampa Bay.

"I knew I could jump in and fit in on that team. They had a lot of injuries and were making a playoff push," said Robertson, who threw 4 innings of scoreless relief during a gut-wrenching five-game setback to Boston in the ALDS. "We had a great run. We just didn't get very far."

Cubs come calling

Shortly after the MLB lockout ended on March 12, Robertson got a call from Jed Hoyer to gauge his interest in joining the Cubs. After a couple days of back-and-forth emails, a deal got done -- and just in the nick of time for the Cubs, as other clubs were also clamoring for Robertson's services.

"I had a lot of teams calling and a lot of different offers coming in," Robertson said. "It was happening very fast."

Manager David Ross entered this season without a designated closer, but it was no surprise that he turned to Robertson with the Cubs clinging to a 5-4 lead against Milwaukee in the opener. Robertson gave up a 1-out single, but struck out Christian Yelich and got Andrew McCutchen to ground out to end the game.

It was Robertson's first save since August 31, 2018, and he's added 4 more since.

"He's (succeeded) on the biggest stage for a long time and been around Hall of Famers like Mariano Rivera and (was) in that Yankee bullpen that had a bunch of those guys," Ross said. "He's a guy that's very comfortable within his own skin.

"He has fun competing; loves his teammates. He's very positive as he goes about his day. Just everything about him is inviting. Championship-caliber dude."

Robertson misses his family, which includes a newborn son, but he did have his 9-year-old at Wrigley during a recent homestand. The Alabama native also knows how to give back, creating High Socks for Hope after a tornado struck Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and killed 64 people in 2011. The charity's mission is to "lend support to those suffering in the wake of natural disasters, especially after the immediate attention subsides."

Robertson's enjoyed his time with the Cubs and hopes they can turn things around after a rough start.

"Very relaxed team," he said. "There's a lot of good vibes here. Be nice if we get warmer weather -- I think the bats will wake up and our defense will come alive.

"It's been a tough (run) for us so far. We're still trying to figure out our identity as a team. Got a lot of talent.

"Just need to build off of one game to the next game and play some good baseball."

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