The Cubs want another parade down Michigan Avenue, loading up for another World Series run by adding lefty reliever Justin Wilson and veteran catcher Alex Avila on top of frontline starter Jose Quintana.
At a time when other organizations are overprotective of prospects and planning for the future by following a Cubs Way blueprint, team president Theo Epstein knows what he wants and what he is willing to give up to keep Wrigleyville rocking this October.
The Cubs closed that deal with the Detroit Tigers late Sunday night and announced it early Monday morning, filling their two biggest immediate needs with almost six hours to go before Monday’s 3 p.m. non-waiver trade deadline in Chicago.
Pouncing on that proposal from the White Sox in the middle of July allowed Quintana to make three extra starts (2-1, 2.37 ERA) in a Cubs uniform, changing the energy in the clubhouse as the defending champs sprinted out of the All-Star break, going 13-3 and flipping a 5.5-game deficit in the National League Central into a 2.5-game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers.
The Cubs are no longer the franchise of here-we-go-again pessimism, in part, because Epstein sacrificed elite prospect Gleyber Torres in a blockbuster deal with the New York Yankees last summer. Epstein made the calculated decision that he would rather be with Aroldis Chapman than against that 100-mph fastball in October, adding the superstar closer – a week before the trade deadline – to a team with close to a 99-percent chance of making the playoffs.
“A preemptive strike – he’s not afraid to make that before it gets too late,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Our guys do a great job of recognizing our need – and then not being afraid to go out and get it.”
The reality is the Cubs didn’t feel all that much pain while making these deals. (It would obviously be a much different story if the Cubs hadn’t recovered to win that World Series Game 7.) But this was The Plan all along, to collect as much young talent as possible, invest heavily in hitters and flip those assets when the Cubs needed pitching.
So Torres might become a star in The Bronx, Eloy Jimenez should someday launch eye-popping homers on the South Side and the White Sox will help Dylan Cease refine his 100-mph fastball and big curveball.
Jeimer Candelario should get a good opportunity in Detroit’s rebuilding situation as a 23-year-old switch-hitter who works out with Robinson Cano during the offseason, plays both corner-infield spots and has 21 homers, 106 RBI and a .912 OPS in 157 career games on the Triple-A level.
But Candelario didn’t have a clear path to the North Side. Neither did Class-A infielder Isaac Paredes, the other prospect packaged in the Wilson/Avila trade along with cash or a player to be named later.
The Cubs already have a battle-tested, championship-proven lineup of everyday players under club control through 2021: Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Addison Russell, Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr., plus Jason Heyward (assuming he doesn’t opt out of a $184 million contract) and rookie Ian Happ and a scouting-and-player-development machine that will be all over the draft and the international market.
The Cubs can now slot Quintana into their rotation through 2020 alongside Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks. The Cubs can also position Wilson – who has 92 holds, 14 saves and a 3.20 ERA in his career – as an elite setup guy for this pennant race and a potential ninth-inning option for next season if All-Star closer Wade Davis exits as a free agent.
But enough about the future, the Cubs understand this is World Series or bust, all over again.
“We always knew there was talent in the room,” pitcher John Lackey said. “It was just a matter of guys getting back to feeling good and playing good baseball together. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of that since the break. But then again, we got a long way to go, too.”