August 1, 2012
As the non-waiver trade deadline for Major League Baseball came and went Tuesday afternoon, there’s no better time to look at what the new front office regime of the Chicago Cubs managed to accomplish. The Cubs were not expected to contend in 2012 and promptly lived up to that expectation as they were dead in the water before the calendar flipped to June. That meant they would be sellers at the deadline, the question was more of who would go than who would still be around to play for the team the rest of the season.
By the time the dust settled and the smoke cleared around Wrigley Field, four players had been moved by the Cubs in three different trades to two different teams. In the stead of the departed were a handful of prospects that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer hope can help replenish the farm system going forward. The farm system and building from within was a major project for Epstein upon being hired, after all, it helped Boston win two World Series titles during his tenure with the team.
In the coming days, we’ll take a look at who was moved, who wasn’t and what the future may hold for the Cubs franchise, whose run between championships will be extended to 104 years when the season concludes. We’ll start with those players who no longer are part of the organization.
ON THE WAY OUT
Ryan Dempster: It was pretty much a foregone conclusion that Dempster wouldn’t be pitching for the Cubs after the deadline. Word came out that Epstein and Hoyer had spoken to him about a potential move back in late May, so no one was surprised when a move went down. After all, Dempster was in the final year of his contract and would become a free agent after the season. As a 10-5 player (ten years in the majors, with the last five coming with the same team) Dempster had the right to veto any possible deal if he so chose.
For the longest time, it seemed that the Dodgers and Braves were the frontrunners for procuring Dempster’s services for the stretch run. At the time, Dempster seemed amiable to being moved to either location but when the Cubs brought a proposed deal to the table that had him going to the Braves in exchange for 22-year-old starter Randall Delgado, Dempster changed his mind and turned the deal down, saying that he wanted to play for the Dodgers.
The move killed any leverage the Cubs had in attempting to deal the right hander, who is 5-5 with a 2.25 earned run average this season and who posted a streak of 33 consecutive scoreless innings to set a franchise record. With the Dodgers seemingly in the driver’s seat, their offer wasn’t what the Cubs were hoping for and talks stalled out. Dempster opened his potential landing spots to the Yankees, Rangers and Blue Jays as well, but it wasn’t until minutes before the deadline that something got done.
In the end, Dempster ended up with the Texas Rangers, a team that needed to make a move to bolster their rotation with the Angels breathing down their necks and the suddenly red hot A’s making a move in the standings. Following Tuesday night’s action, the Angels are 3 games back and the A’s just 3.5 out of the top spot in the AL West. On top of that, the Angels added Zack Greinke from Milwaukee to give them another front line starter in a rotation loaded with them.
Meanwhile, Texas learned that Neftali Feliz was gone for the season and would undergo Tommy John surgery. Colby Lewis was lost for the year earlier in the season and Roy Oswalt has not proven to be the tonic to cure the rotation’s ails as the team hoped. Dempster is the best chance Texas has to be viable in the suddenly competitive AL West. In exchange, the Cubs picked up a pair of prospects in third baseman Christian Villanueva and pitcher Kyle Hendricks, both of whom were playing at High Class-A Myrtle Beach. Dempster will make his first start for the Rangers on Thursday in the series finale of the current set with the Angels.
Geovany Soto: It seems like eons ago that Soto won the National League Rookie of the Year award and was selected to the All Star Game, but it was only 2008. Soto burst on to the scene in a big way that year, hitting .285 with 35 doubles, 23 home runs and 85 runs batted in. The problem is simple: he hasn’t performed anywhere close to those numbers since. Sure, he hit .280 in 2010 and hit 17 home runs in both 2010 and 2011, but drove in just 53 and 54 runs in those two seasons.
If you put Soto’s numbers together over the past three plus seasons, you get a combined .234 average with 70 doubles, 51 home runs and 168 runs batted in over 384 games. That’s a 51 point drop in average. The power numbers are down as well; he put up his rookie season numbers in 141 games. His penchant for striking out resurfaced last year when he fanned 124 times in 421 at bats and in limited action this season, he’s gone down on strike three 35 times in 176 at bats.
This season, it was as if Soto fell off a cliff offensively. He’s still below the infamous Mendoza line, hitting .199 with six home runs and 14 runs batted in over the course of 52 games and he has as many hits as strikeouts. Add to that the fact that he missed time with a knee injury earlier in the season and that he was making $4.3 million this season while being arbitration eligible next season and the Cubs were left with little choice but to make a move.
The Rangers had been disenchanted with the combination of Yorvit Torrealba (.236 average, 3 home runs, 12 runs batted in) and Mike Napoli, who after a breakout year in 2011, came crashing back to earth with a thud (.226, 17 home runs, 38 runs batted in), necessitating a move. The team hopes that a change of scenery may help Soto catch lightning in a bottle and transform into his 2008 self. In a corresponding move, the Rangers designated Torrealba for assignment. Manager Ron Washington stated that he intends to give Soto “a lot of playing time.”
Paul Maholm: Maholm was a free agent pickup in the offseason from the Pirates, where he had spent his entire big league career. Maholm was up and down during the season, getting cuffed in his first two starts. He allowed six earned runs in four innings in both of those outings to quickly fall to 0-2 with a 13.50 earned run average before righting the ship. Maholm would win his next four starts, allowing just three earned runs in 25.1 innings to knock his earned run average down to 4.05 after the disastrous start.
Then the wheels would fall off again for Maholm, as he would be winless in his next eight starts, dropping four decisions to fall to 4-6. Rock bottom came on June 23 against the Diamondbacks at Chase Field, when he was smacked for seven runs on nine hits and three walks in 3.1 innings in a 10-5 loss. That defeat sent his earned run average back up to 5.38 and left people wondering again if Maholm had anything to give. As it turned out, the answer was yes.
In what may have been one of the best stretches of pitching for the Cubs in recent memory, Maholm went 5-0 in his last six starts, allowing five runs in 44 innings of work, which chopped his earned run average down to 3.74 on the year. His record stands at 9-6 and he easily could have won his start against St. Louis Sunday, leaving with a 2-1 lead after 6.2 innings. However, Shawn Camp gave up a game-tying solo homer to Carlos Beltran in the eighth and Anthony Rizzo’s two run blast in the tenth gave James Russell the win in relief.
The hot streak made Maholm a commodity at the deadline and with the Braves still looking for arms in the rotation, they picked him up from the Cubs. Maholm and Reed Johnson were dealt to Atlanta, while in exchange, the Cubs received pitchers Arodys Vizcaino and Jaye Chapman. Vizcaino is recovering from Tommy John surgery but has a power arm, while Chapman is expected to be able to contribute to the Cubs bullpen.
Reed Johnson: Johnson was in his second tour of duty with the Cubs and was a class act and a tremendous asset off the bench. Johnson hit better than .300 in both seasons in this run in Chicago, hitting .309 this season and .302 in his time this year with the team. He is capable of playing all three outfield positions and is a good guy to have in the clubhouse.
Johnson was fantastic as a pinch hitter so far this season, hitting a robust .448 (13 of 28) in that role. He hit .306 with runners in scoring position and .302 with runners on base. He hit .404 in tie games, .294 with runners in scoring position and 2 outs and .330 with all three of his home runs on the season away from Wrigley Field. He’ll add a valuable bat off the bench for the Braves, whose bench has been thin most of the year due to the inability to produce. He’s also more than capable of being a defensive replacement late in games, as he’s made some spectacular plays for the Cubs in the outfield, including robbing Prince Fielder of a grand slam in Miller Park a couple seasons ago.
So it’s with a heavy heart and a fond farewell that we as Cubs fans wave goodbye to this quartet of players who were part of the franchise. Will any of them find their way back to the corner of Clark and Addison, or have we seen the last of them in a Cubs uniform? We’ll have to see, but the memories will remain long after their last appearance.
Coming up next: players who were talked about but not moved at the deadline, so stay tuned.