With one day left before families across the nation circle the table with an abundance of food, football, and laughter, it seems like as good a time as any for Cubs fans to look back on some of the moves Theo Epstein and company have made since taking over that give us so many reasons to be thankful he is with the Chicago Cubs.
In July, 2009 the Chicago Cubs finally got released from the grasp of the Tribune Company when the Ricketts family purchased the Cubs for almost 900 million dollars. At that time, the Cubs had a bloated payroll, a bottom-half farm system, and lack of consistency throughout the organization to build a sustainable winner as indicated in Baseball America’s notes regarding the Cubs system at the time:
“Granted the organization is in win now mode but it is possible to develop players in the minors while winning in the majors. A minor league system that has been described as weak by many of the experts needs a successful year in 2009”
When Ricketts purchased the team, he vowed to bring a championship and consistency to the Chicago Cubs franchise:
“We share the goal of Cubs fans everywhere to win a World Series and build the consistent championship tradition that the fans deserve.”
At the time many fans seemed to be envisioning a Yankees-type team that would be in the hunt for every major free agent that hit the market. The next few years saw free agents such as Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols, and Prince Fielder(amongst others) hit the market and fans of the Cubs praying for a major signing. What many fans(not all) failed to realize is the most important signing took place before any of those free agents hit the market. It took place in October 2011, when Theo Epstein was announced as President of Baseball Operations of the Chicago Cubs.
Since that time improvements have been apparent on the field, at Wrigley Field, in the minor leagues, in the spring training facilities, on the international front, essentially everywhere you turn when looking at the Cubs franchise, you see a massive improvement in the relatively short time that Tom, Theo, and Jed have had control of this franchise.
With that, let’s take a look at 5 of the best trades that the Cubs front office has made since Theo was announced just over 4 years ago that give the Cubs fans reasons to say thanks before diving into their Turkey and stuffing this Holiday weekend:
5. Ryan Dempster to Texas for Christian Villanueva and Kyle Hendricks-2012
Coming up on the trade deadline of Theo Epstein’s first season with the Chicago Cubs, the Cubs had Matt Garza and Ryan Demptser at potential major chips to be moved. With Garza being under control for another year, moving Dempster was the primary priority. With a terrific relationship with the Cubs front office, Dempster was willing to waive his 10/5 rights to accept the deal. He has since returned to the Cubs(which is a common theme) in a front office role.
At the time the player of most interest to the Chicago Cubs and their fans was 3rd baseman Christian Villanueva who had performed terrific in a system that already had 3rd base prospect Mike Olt. However Kyle Hendricks, who appeared as a “throw-in” to some, was the kind of player that Cubs would soon make a habit of acquiring as “throw-ins” and has far exceeded expectations in the back of the rotation over the last 1.5 seasons.
Villanueva had a rough 2014 campaign but had a decent bounced-back in 2015 at Iowa. Since the trade, the Cubs have brought in a 3rd base staple that you may have heard of in Kris Bryant that blocks Villanueva, but Villanueva still adds to the prospect currency the Cubs now have to add needed pieces via trade as they have transitioned from rebuild to competitive mode.
4. Garza to Rangers for M. Olt, N. Ramirez, C. Edwards Jr, J. Grimm
What a move. In fact, this move still haunts Jon Daniels of the Texas Rangers. The Cubs went for quantity here, and in exchange for a half season of hit-or-miss Matt Garza the Cubs received 3 pieces that have played roles ranging from significant to necessary with the major league club over the last 2 seasons, along with a top 100 prospect who could be a crucial piece this season.
Mike Olt was discussed at times with the Dempster deal the season before, however the Rangers were not willing to move their top-rated 3rd base prospect in 2012. The next season, however, Mike Olt’s status had changed significantly. Following an unfortunate career-altering injury, Olt was now on the table in a deal that would send the Cubs 4 total player assets. While Olt never had a significant level of success with the Cubs before moving across town , he played a role in organizational depth and was able to provide key innings throughout the final year of the rebuild for the Cubs both with the Major league team and the in the minor league system.
Neil Ramirez and Justin Grimm have both played critical roles out of the Cubs bullpen in high-leverage situations. While Ramirez struggled with injury last season, when healthy, he still showed the stuff that helped him post a 1.44 ERA with 53 K’s in 50 innings to go along with a 1.053 WHIP in 2014. I expect big things from Ramirez in 2016 out of the Cubs bullpen. Justin Grimm, or the GRIMM REAPER, played a major role both during the regular season and in the playoffs out of the Cubs bullpen. In 63 contests, Grimm posted a 1.99 ERA with 67 K’s in just under 50 innings to go along with a 1.148 WHIP. With relievers demanding more than 10 million per season on the free agent market these days, such as Dave Robertson, it is a great luxury to have Ramirez and Grimm cost-controlled for the next 3-4 years.
Carl Edwards Jr converted to the bullpen last season to help sustain his arm. He could still convert back to starter in time, but for now, we should view him as yet another major piece to the Cubs bullpen. Maybe even a future closer. Edwards Jr has wicked stuff and in 2015 struck out 75 batters in 55 innings between two levels of the minor leagues. He also walked 41. At just 24 years old, Edwards no doubt will be working on cutting down the walks as he hopes to play a major role out of the Cubs bullpen in 2016. With Bosio at the helm working with Edwards Jr, I have no doubt he will be able to make necessary improvements to be a significant piece in the Cubs bullpen(and maybe rotation) for years to come.
So, a half-year of Matt Garza allowed the Cubs to bridge the gap at 3rd base until Kris Bryant could take over and completely revamp their bullpen. Ya, I’d say that was a good move.
3. Samardijza and Hammel to A’s for Russell, McKinney, Straily , and a PTBNL or cash considerations
In an Independence Day stunner that helped set the market for trades leading up to the 2014 trade deadline, the Cubs moved one of the top trade chips in Jeff Samardijza along with Jason Hammel to bring back one of the Cubs core-4 that will be a staple at shortstop likely for the next decade.
As part of our analysis yesterday, Cubs fans were not thrilled about trading Shark in 2014. However, the move was arguably the last big deal that had to be made to complete the rebuild and move from the “breakdown” stages for the front office, to the “competitive” stages.
The Cubs were able to resign Hammel last offseason following the trade and Shark has since been rumored to possibly be coming back as well. In return, the Cubs got back a current top-100 prospect in McKinney and a face-of-the franchise type player in Addison Russell. McKinney adds more prospect-currency this offseason for Theo and Jed to utilize while looking at moves to improve the major-league team, and Russell will look to improve upon his terrific rookie year at just 21 as he enters spring training stapled in at Shortstop.
Dan Straily was little more than organizational pitching depth for the Cubs as he was able to start a few games for the team to end the 2014 campaign. The Cubs mercifully allowed the A’s to send back simply cash as opposed to a player to complete the deal after it was apparent the Cubs had fleeced the A’s with simply McKinney and Russell in a deal that has helped the Cubs be set up to dominate for the next 5 years.
2. Andrew Cashner to Padres for Anthony Rizzo
Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein could have been charged with stalking following this deal. After drafting Rizzo in Boston and trading for him in San Diego in the Adrian Gonzalez deal, Jed Hoyer had reunited with the Theo Epstein in the Cubs front office. First order of business? Bring in Rizzo. Clearly Hoyer and Epstein knew they had an on-the-field leader as well as a future first base staple in Rizzo. Fortunately for the Cubs, Rizzo had come up and underwhelmed in his debut with the Padres, posting a .141 batting average and just over a .280 OBP in 153 plate appearances in 2011.
Andrew Cashner was the oft-injured, but uber-promising controllable starter the Cubs had, and at 25, he was a starter under control who was worth the risk for the Padres to move Rizzo. Since the trade, Cashner has still battled injuries for the Padres, however has been a serviceable starter in the rotation. Is he the top-of-rotation type starter that some had hoped? No. But he has not been a complete bust by any means and still gives the Padres a trade-chip this offseason.
Rizzo, on the other hand, has been an unquestioned leader in the community, in the clubhouse, and on the diamond for the Chicago Cubs. Following a tough 2013 under Dale Sveum, Rizzo has posted back-t0-back years that puts him with the elite first basemen in all of baseball. In 2014, Rizzo posted .286/.386/.913 stat line to go along with 32 Home Runs and 72 RBI’s. In 2015, he helped lead the resurgent Cubs into the playoffs with a stat line of .278/.387/.899 to go with 31 Home Runs and 101 RBI’s. While playing top-notch defense at 1B, Rizzo has made the last 2 all-star games and finished 10th and 4th the last two seasons for the NL MVP.
Cashner has been fine for the Padres, but considering the leadership and production of Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs made out like a bandit in this one for my money. Rizzo looks to be the example of “the Cubs Way” for years to come.
1. Scott Feildman and Steve Clevenger for Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop
The Cubs made a living signing serviceable pitchers on 1-year “prove it” deals, providing them the tools and means to “prove it”, then proceeding to flip them at the deadline for organizational depth or lottery tickets within the organization. No better example of this is the move to acquire 2015 cy-young winner Jake Arrieta from the Baltimore Orioles.
In 2013, Jake Arrieta was a “bust” within the Orioles organization who saw the once-top prospect as a bottom-of-rotation piece at best. With the Orioles in contention, they saw an opportunity to move Arrieta and Strop for a piece in Feildman they felt could help round out their rotation and help deliver a deep postseason run.
Jake Arrieta joined a Cubs organization that allowed him to be himself and grow into a top-3 pitcher in all of baseball. Pedro Strop paid immediate dividends as a bullpen piece and has continued to be an essential piece out of the ‘pen in high-leverage situations ever since. The Cubs have Arrieta under control through 2017, though they will look at extending him this offseason, and Strop will again be arbitration-eligible and will either be back in high-leverage situations for the Cubs or yet another essential trade-chip this offseason if the Cubs brass feels that is the better route.
The Orioles missed out on the playoffs in 2013 and Feildman went on to sign a 3-year deal with the Houston Astros. Arrieta was the ace for a Cubs team in 2015 that went to the NLCS, won the cy-young, and had the best half-season in the history of baseball. It goes without saying, the Cubs dominated this deal.
So, the offseason can be stressful as every one has an opinion on what their team should do. However, while Reds new GM Dick Williams continues to ask far too much for their trade-able assets or is too worried about fan reaction as the Reds begin their “reload”(ha). Cubs fans can give thanks that we have Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer running our baseball operations and, regardless of what we THINK should happen, at least we know that “In Theo we TRUST”.