MILWAUKEE — That’s it?
After all the speculation about how the Cubs would be willing to spend big money on the right player, all the talk about these great prospects and all the fantasy trade proposals on Twitter, Theo Epstein’s baseball operations department didn’t make any seismic moves before Friday’s trade deadline.
The Cubs did reinforce two big areas of need, upgrading their rotation (Dan Haren) and bullpen (Tommy Hunter) through solid deals with the Miami Marlins and Baltimore Orioles that only cost them three minor-league players and around $5 million in salary.
“‘Disappointed’ is kind of a loaded word,” Epstein said before a 4-1 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. “Would we have liked to have hit a home run of a deal? Yeah, absolutely. But if you’re dead set on making a big deal for the sake of making a big deal, you end up making a bad deal.
“We explored everything very thoroughly, very aggressively, came close. But we still have that talent in the organization. Some of them will go on to play up here, and others we’ll probably use in trades another day.”
The Cubs tried to get Tyson Ross, a frontline pitcher who won’t become a free agent until after the 2017 season, but the San Diego Padres didn’t sell, strangely remaining stuck in neutral.
The Cubs negotiated with the Cleveland Indians, but couldn’t convince them to give up Carlos Carrasco, another prime-age pitcher who could remain under club control through the 2020 season.
While the Cubs would like to write everything off as sticking to The Plan, they don’t really have any elite, high-level pitching prospects to shop now, no one particularly close to being a top-of-the-rotation starter in the majors.
And there’s inevitably a drain on minor-league talent with four rookies in the lineup (Kyle Schwarber, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler and Addison Russell).
“I think we have one of the deeper farm systems in all of baseball,” Epstein said. “When half your team is 23 and under, you might not have the impact 23-year-old left in your farm system. But that’s natural. You just have to give it a little bit of time.
“Our players were in demand. It was just a lot of the guys we had targeted — who we thought would make the biggest impact — weren’t moved.
“We weren’t beat for those players. They just weren’t moved. I think our farm system — considering what’s here in the big leagues right now — (is) in excellent shape.”
While the Los Angeles Dodgers kept flexing their financial muscles, Epstein also downplayed the significance of working without a real big-market payroll.
“I don’t think finances played a big part in what we were able to do — or weren’t able to do,” Epstein said. “You see some teams out there who are just absolutely leveraging their massive resources, taking on bad contracts left and right in order to acquire young players.
“I guess in their situation it’s smart and creative. Every team has to find what’s appropriate for their situation.”
The Cubs (55-47) understandably didn’t want to go all-in with rental players when they have maybe a 50-50 chance to make it to a one-game playoff, trailing the St. Louis Cardinals by 10.5 games in the division.
The Cubs now trail the San Francisco Giants — who picked up pitcher Mike Leake from the Cincinnati Reds for the stretch run — by one game for the second wild card.
The New York Mets — who are two games back in the National League East and 3.5 games out of a wild-card spot — added power-hitting outfielder Yoenis Cespedes in a deal with the Detroit Tigers.
“The Mets felt like they needed more offense. The Giants brought in more pitching,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I like the pitching that we got a lot. There’s always going to be this ratings system.
[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans]
“Look at Haren’s numbers and what he’s done this year. It’s been pretty good. I’m a Hunter fan. I’ve always liked his stuff. He’s not afraid and he’s very durable.
“The other side of it is the guys out here — we have to get more out of them offensively. Miggy’s (Miguel Montero) getting well. (Tommy) La Stella is not far from becoming well. (Javier) Baez is getting well.
“I kind of like what we got. We just got to pull more out of them right now.”
The Cubs went out and handled the last-place Brewers, noticing a more relaxed Starlin Castro (two RBI) and thinking Jason Hammel (6-5, 3.13 ERA) is just about back to full strength after that hamstring injury. Four relievers combined to get the final 10 outs, with Hector Rondon notching his 15th save (and third in three days).
“We could care less,” Hammel said. “We’re supposed to come out here and win ballgames with whoever’s on the roster. We like who we’ve got.”