Baseball is all about talent development and talent acquisition. The Chicago Cubs had very little of either of those until their super team of executives, including, but not limited to, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, arrived in town.
Almost from day one, those two have forged a vision for the Cubs to finally end their 108-year championship drought. Now up 3-2 in the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers and on the brink of the team’s first World Series appearance since the end of World War II, the Cubs are very much a product of the moves they made in the years they spent in the basement of the National League.
Five trades, in particular, have them in the position where they are right now: one win from reaching the World Series. These are the trades that will be talked about forever if the Cubs finally break the curse in 2016.
5. LHP Sean Marshall to the Reds for LHP Travis Wood, two others
Believe it or not, Travis Wood is now the longest-tenured Cub on the active roster, and he has been a force on the team for years. While he is not a lights-out closer or a great starter, he is an excellent hybrid who is capable of making spot starts or going deep in long relief.
Not many players by that description can also pitch in high-leverage lefty-lefty matchups like he can, either. He is a vital part of their bullpen as they move closer and closer to doing the unspeakable.
Meanwhile, Marshall, who was a very valuable member of the Cubs’ bullpen for a few years, fizzled out in Cincinnati due to injury.
4. RHP Matt Garza to the Rangers for 3B Mike Olt, RHP Carl Edwards Jr., RHP Justin Grimm
This was a straight steal of a trade, as many of the other trades listed here were. Garza was leaving his prime, and the Cubs got some real value in return. Olt was actually the centerpiece of this trade and never panned out at the major-league level, but the other two players involved are on the Cubs’ NLCS roster right now.
Grimm, while inconsistent, has been a key to the bullpen for a couple years now. Edwards is just starting to make a name for himself and is looking like a very solid back-end bullpen option for years to come. The fact Joe Maddon already trusts him in high-leverage situations speaks volumes about his talent.
3. RHP Jeff Samardzija, RHP Jason Hammel to the Athletics for SS Addison Russell, OF Billy McKinney, RHP Dan Straily, PTBNL
This was one of the biggest blockbusters of the 2014 trade deadline season, and it worked out for the Cubs. Russell has homered in two straight NLCS games, helping give the Cubs the advantage they currently enjoy in the series.
Obviously, Straily has moved on from the club, but McKinney remains a promising young bat that will likely be used as trade bait to acquire pitching in the future.
Going back to Russell, he has the chance to be the best shortstop in the National League before it’s all said and done, as he’s just 22-years-old. The Cubs found a desperate Athletics team and are now reaping the benefits.
2. RHP Andrew Cashner to the Padres for 1B Anthony Rizzo
It was one of the first moves the new Cubs regime made, and it was one of the most important. Epstein and Hoyer drafted Rizzo with the Red Sox. Then, Hoyer traded for him with the Padres. Ultimately, they both acquired him again with the Cubs. That’s three times the duo has had him in different cities; they could see he was going to be special.
They took a risk giving up a flamethrower in Cashner, someone who had been a decent eighth-inning guy for the club while reaching triple digits on the radar gun. While Cashner has been okay in San Diego and Miami, Rizzo has developed into a perennial All-Star and MVP contender.
Beyond the numbers, Rizzo is the undoubted leader of this team at just 27-years-old. That is what has many fans clamoring for the team to make him the captain next season.
1. RHP Scott Feldman and C Steve Clevenger to the Orioles for RHP Jake Arrieta and RHP Pedro Strop
If the Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio trade is the worst in Cubs franchise history, this just might be the best. Chicago gave up a pitcher whose contract was up and a backup catcher for two pitchers who were struggling.
Almost instantly after arriving in Chicago, Arrieta and Strop began turning things around. Strop improved that very same 2013 season, while Arrieta started showing what he was capable of the following season. Of course, he has really shown what he can do lately, winning the 2015 NL Cy Young Award and pitching two no-hitters in the last two seasons.
If the Cubs can’t close out the Dodgers to advance to the World Series after Game 6 of the NLCS, it will all be on Jake Arrieta’s shoulders in NLCS Game 7 to send the Cubs to their first Fall Classic since 1945.
But make no mistake, guys like Rizzo, Russell, Strop, Edwards, Wood, and Grimm will also play huge roles in whether or not the team reaches heights they haven’t since 1908.
And to think the players with the most to say about when this title drought finally ends were slowly added, piece by piece, while nobody really noticed.
Should the Cubs close out the Dodgers and reach the World Series in 2016, suddenly, everyone will be watching.
[Featured Image by Gene J. Puskar/AP Images]