As big names like Yoenis Cespedes and David Price were dangled before playoff contenders in hopes of netting their respective teams hefty prospects, Chicago Cubs mastermind Theo Epstein rummaged through each team’s bargain bin for talent both sufficiently experienced and easy on the pocketbook. The results of his shopping weren’t jaw-dropping, but Dan Haren and Tommy Hunter define longevity, leadership and bring work ethic to a team still trying to define who they are. Plus, both acquisitions cost nearly nothing, which was important to the bottom-line conscious Epstein.
In rebuilding an organization, it’s important to build sustainability while cultivating experience. The Chicago Cubs organization many remember as kids seemed unstable, with a professional farm system that rivaled high school ball. Today, Chicago may not have Cole Hamels or Aroldis Chapman, but they do have prospects who are protected and touted enough that Theo wouldn’t trade them for rentals. Or even vets with team control. If you’re keeping score, every move Cubs front office made over the last three years molded the very team baseball now fears. Is the Samardzija/Hammel trade to Oakland in 2014 making sense yet? Fans hated to see Shark leave, but the returns Chicago received – including an eventual reunion with Hammel – were well worth the pain of letting two players try and help the A’s push toward World Series contention. A push which effectively went nowhere.
ESPN sports writer David Schoenfield called the Cubs trade deadline losers. Jeff Passan called Theo Epstein ‘smart’ for making conservative moves that didn’t crack the piggy bank. Think of Chicago’s deadline participation how you will, but bear in mind that Chicago wasn’t hellbent on going knee deep in the hunt for high caliber talent unless doing so made good business sense, and doing so rendered controllable players without giving up farm club talent. So honestly, what satirical bloggers think of Chicago Cubs executive decisions is arbitrary; Theo wants this team to make a run, but also wants a sustainable model.
Epstein isn’t done, nor are the Cubs. Grabbing Haren and Hunter signaled Chicago is playoff hopeful with World Series potential. I stress potential because should the young team fail to make the wild card round, diehard fans aren’t sweating; they’re applauding. The onus of hitting consistently is on the shoulders of Rizzo, Schwarber, Bryant, Russell and the several veterans Chicago signed over the winter, a core of young talent which many figure will come to fruition in 2016. The two trade deadline acquisitions literally cost Chicago Cubs owners nothing – two players who would’ve been Rule 5 eligible anyway, and Junior Lake, with the Dodgers eating Haren’s $10 million. Not that anyone suggests Lake is nothing, as his hitting hasn’t been poor; his positions of choice were simply packed with better players. He’ll bring the O’s a solid PH performance when needed, possibly fill in for someone needing rest.
August is another milestone month, one which figures to add another bat or two for Joe Maddon to platoon around. From there, it’s simply a race to the finish line, with a desirable first year result of 81-81 or better. Twitter exploded with mixed emotion as the trade deadline clock ticked on, many calling for Kimbrel, Ross, even Carter Capps, to get signed for an unrealistic World Series push. As the Chicago Cubs eye their spot in the MLB playoffs one full year before their due time, remind yourselves that whatever magic transpires between now and October is only an inkling of what’s to come for Chicago.
Oh, and never trust a DeLorean.
(Photo by Tom Lynn / Getty Images Sport)