The Cubs are responding to Miguel Montero’s injury by promoting elite prospect Kyle Schwarber from Triple-A Iowa.
If that aggressive mindset is going to carryover to the trade deadline, the Cubs have to hope teams start getting more realistic and more decisive once the All-Star break ends.
Not that the Cubs know exactly what they will do by July 31, but there is no impulse to blow this team up again. It’s just a matter of how much Theo Epstein’s front office will add, how hard they want to slam their foot on the accelerator.
Schwarber will be rejoining a third-place team when the Cubs open the second half on Friday against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. At 47-40, the Cubs also have the National League’s fifth-best winning percentage, already sweeping the season series (7-0) against the New York Mets, the team trailing them by one game in the race for the second wild card.
All 15 teams in the American League are within eight games of a playoff spot, creating uncertainty about which direction to go and fueling the belief this could be a sellers’ market.
“It’s not a unilateral thing,” Epstein said. “You can’t make things happen at the deadline. It’s all about understanding what teams are trying to do, being opportunistic when they’re in a certain mindset, trying to match up.
“But I think it’s important when you write about the trade deadline, you look back. Those deals rarely work for buyers.”
The Cubs built this team, in part, through those fire sales, finding 40 percent of their rotation (Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks), rebuilding their bullpen (Pedro Strop, Justin Grimm, Neil Ramirez), getting a starting second baseman (Addison Russell) and deepening their overall pool of prospects.
Within Epstein’s first three years of running baseball operations, the Cubs engineered 10 major trades where they gave up 13 players (average age: 31) and eight seasons of future control for 17 prospects (average age: 22.5) and 95 seasons of future control.
“We’ve made a lot of phone calls,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “But I don’t think things have sort of kicked off yet, as far as the trade market. I still think this will be a tighter market than usual early on, just because the American League is so jumbled up that I don’t think teams have really declared themselves yet.
“The National League’s a little bit different, but I think it will take some time to break through. Maybe after the All-Star break that will happen.”
The Cubs are relevant again with star manager Joe Maddon, All-Stars Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant and the hope another impact player could arrive within the next two weeks beyond Schwarber, a 22-year-old catcher and Baseball America’s No. 6 midseason prospect.
“It’s brought a nice little buzz to the city,” said Jon Lester (4-8, 3.59 ERA), who had an up-and-down first half in the first year of that $155 million megadeal.
“We’ve got a bunch of young guys on this team that haven’t played a full season in the big leagues before, and the adjustment period has (gone) surprisingly well.
“I expect these guys to continue to make adjustments and continue to do well. With that being said, there’s going to be some ups and downs involved. You have to take the good with the bad sometimes.”
With the Cubs already bracing for Bryant, Russell and Jorge Soler to hit the rookie wall – not to mention the unanswered questions about the back of the rotation and what that does to the bullpen – is there a psychological boost to acquiring a new player?
“It depends on how good he is,” said Maddon, who guided the Tampa Bay Rays to five 90-win seasons between 2008 and 2013.
“That could be overstated. I’ve been involved in a lot of playoffs the last several years with minimal acquisition at that point. A lot of time, it comes from within. A lot of time, it comes from guys that may have been injured that get well, too. And then a lot of times, it comes from guys that have been underperforming and start to perform.”
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Maddon pointed to the submarine-style reliever the Rays acquired from the Baltimore Orioles in August 2008 on their way to the World Series.
“The first year we got good, Chad Bradford was a huge addition,” Maddon said. “That came after the July 31 deadline. We got Chad and he was huge for us down the stretch (1.42 ERA in 21 appearances).
“He doesn’t have to be this huge name. It could just be a nice fit for what you’re trying to get going on here. It also could be somebody that’s really good within the room and really makes a difference in there.
“I evaluate all the importance of a player, beyond just wearing batting average on a sleeve to determine whether or not somebody is beneficial to me. I don’t go there.
“Obviously, acquisitions can be great, but I’ve seen it be detrimental. Honestly, I have. I’ve seen guys come in and absolutely take you the other way, too, because they just don’t fit.”
The Cubs still have 23 games left against the Philadelphia Phillies, Milwaukee Brewers and Colorado Rockies, three last-place teams that should be even weaker by Aug. 1 and playing for the future.
The Cubs also have 15 games remaining against the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates, the two teams in front of them in the division. Plus 10 more against the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers and the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants.
Welcome back to The Show, Kyle Schwarber.