MILWAUKEE — The Cubs finished their dealing at the deadline on Friday by trading outfielder Junior Lake to the Baltimore Orioles for reliever Tommy Hunter.
Hunter should give manager Joe Maddon another option for high-leverage situations, strengthening a Cubs bullpen that’s been dominating, overworked and unpredictable.
Hunter emerged as a key piece for Buck Showalter’s bullpen in Baltimore, putting up a 2.97 ERA in 60 appearances and saving 11 games for a 96-win team last season. The year before, Hunter accounted for 86-plus innings, finishing with a 2.81 ERA and a 0.985 WHIP.
As president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said, the Cubs like to take pitchers from the American League and see how their talents translate in the National League. Like Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop, who played with Hunter in Baltimore and have thrived since that change-of-scenery trade two years ago.
Arrieta and Strop stood in front of their lockers before a game against the Milwaukee Brewers. While Arrieta chatted with reporters and raved about Hunter’s power curveball and strong cutter, Strop chimed in with: “He’s crazy, too.”
“He talks a lot,” Arrieta said. “He’s got a good personality. He’s like a big teddy bear.”
At which point another player in the visiting clubhouse said Hunter’s like a big teddy bear that wants to kick you in the face.
Hunter is 29 years old, right-handed and set to become a free agent after this season. He’s owed almost $1.7 million for the stretch run and will apparently give this team an edge.
The Texas Rangers initially drafted Hunter out of the University of Alabama with the No. 54 pick in 2007. He spent some time in the Texas rotation before getting packaged with slugger Chris Davis in the Koji Uehara trade on July 30, 2011.
At the age of 25, Lake needed the chance to play somewhere else and will go to Baltimore’s Triple-A affiliate. To add Hunter, the Cubs also designated reliever Ben Rowen for assignment.
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Lake had been a bigger prospect than Starlin Castro coming out of the Dominican Republic. The two had been roommates on the same path — until Castro made the leap and blossomed into an All-Star shortstop.
Lake gave the Cubs a spark in 2013, hitting six homers with 16 doubles in 64 games. But he couldn’t nail down a big-league job last season, striking out 110 times in 308 at-bats. He’s still an interesting combination of power (.826 career OPS on the Triple-A level) and speed (128 stolen bases in the minors) for Baltimore.
But the Cubs have already identified their core hitters for the future and need someone like Hunter to get big outs right now.
“He’s really going to help us,” Arrieta said. “He’s very attentive of the finer details, who’s coming up, who they have coming off the bench, what this guy likes to hit. He’s going to be a presence in the clubhouse and in our ‘pen.”