Cubs

Win now: Cubs send message in blockbuster Aroldis Chapman trade with Yankees

Win now: Cubs send message in blockbuster Aroldis Chapman trade with Yankees

The Cubs put the finishing touches on a blockbuster deal to acquire superstar closer Aroldis Chapman from the New York Yankees on Monday, a win-now move that cemented their status as World Series favorites. 

This is why Theo Epstein’s baseball operations group spent years collecting long-term assets, so the Cubs could bundle young talent and get the final piece they needed for October without completely mortgaging their future and maybe ride in a parade down Michigan Avenue.

“This was a show of faith in our big-league team,” Epstein said before a 5-4 walk-off loss to the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field. “It was an aggressive move. It was tough to give up what we gave up, but if not now, when? This was the appropriate move given where we are and what we’re trying to accomplish.”

The headliner for the Yankees is Gleyber Torres, a consensus top prospect and a defensively gifted shortstop out of Venezuela. Torres is only 19 years old and had already advanced to the high Class-A level, but he didn’t have a clear path to Wrigley Field with middle infielders Addison Russell and Javier Baez already in place.

No one can replace Chapman’s 105-mph fastball, but the Yankees also wanted Adam Warren to help patch together their pitching staff again and not make this seem like a White Flag Trade to the New York fans and media. Warren – who had been optioned back to Triple-A Iowa on Sunday to stretch out as a starter – never really carved out a role in Chicago after arriving through the Starlin Castro trade.

Chasing the franchise’s first championship since 1908, the Cubs also gave up two minor-league outfielders: Billy McKinney and Rashad Crawford. McKinney – a first-round pick acquired along with Russell from the Oakland A’s in the Jeff Samardzija/Jason Hammel trade – had been hitting .252 with one homer and a .677 OPS in 88 games at Double-A Tennessee this season. Crawford, 22, had teamed up with Torres at advanced Class-A Myrtle Beach, hitting .255 with 22 stolen bases in 83 games.

The cost is high for a rental player who can become a free agent after this season – Epstein signaled the Cubs have not engaged in extension talks with Chapman’s camp. But there is no one else out there quite like Chapman, and the Cubs can process the trade knowing they are still saturated with young position players, and didn’t have to give up Kyle Schwarber, a slugger the Yankees coveted in any deal for All-Star reliever Andrew Miller. 

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!  

The Cubs also rationalized the 30-game suspension Chapman served this season under Major League Baseball’s new domestic violence policy after an incident with his girlfriend in South Florida last fall, betting on manager Joe Maddon, a strong coaching staff and a good clubhouse mix of veterans and young players.

“I’m sure that you’re going to hear some kind of negativity,” Maddon said. “I totally understand and get that. However, I’m always about moving things forward. I’m not going to sit and reflect on that. He’s owned up to it. He’s moved on from that. He served his 30-game sentence. 

“Maybe that might not have been good enough for some people. And I get that, too. At the end of the day, he’s a Chicago Cub right now. That’s my responsibility as the manager of this team to make this thing work as well as it possibly can for us and for him. So I’m eager to get to know him. I really am.”

This allows Maddon to shorten games and change the entire shape of his bullpen, moving closer Hector Rondon to the eighth inning while freeing up setup guy Pedro Strop and incorporating new additions Joe Nathan and Mike Montgomery and not pushing rookie Carl Edwards Jr. too hard.    

It’s also a move against the Washington Nationals and San Francisco Giants, two first-place teams in the market for bullpen help that now might have to face Chapman in October. Good luck with that. Chapman converted 20-of-21 save chances for the Yankees and has 590 strikeouts in 350-plus innings in The Show.
 
“You can’t take for granted the position that we’re in right now,” Epstein said. “We have a dynamic and healthy starting pitching staff. We have a really talented bullpen, two MVP candidates in their prime, moving into their prime. We have a lot of talented hitters up and down the lineup, a really great defense. And they’ve worked their tail off to build up this nice lead.

“We believe in these guys. We feel like we have a chance to do something special, but there’s a lot of work ahead to finish strong down the stretch and make sure we get into the postseason. And then the goal is to win three postseason series.

“That’s not an easy thing to do. You need dynamic players. We felt like we really could benefit from an elite talent, a game-changing pitcher like Aroldis Chapman. 

“As you get down the stretch into the big games and hopefully into the postseason, those types of late-inning relievers take on even more (significance), even greater value, available to pitch every game, changing the scope of the game and the outlook of the game.”

And maybe even change the course of franchise history, because this move is all about Chapman getting the final out in this year’s World Series.  

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

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USA TODAY

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

MESA, Ariz. — “That’s last year, don’t want to talk about that.”

In other words, Addison Russell is so over 2017.

The Cubs shortstop went through a lot last year. He dealt with injuries that affected his foot and shoulder. He had a well-documented off-the-field issue involving an accusation of domestic abuse, which sparked an investigation by Major League Baseball. And then came the trade speculation.

The hot stove season rarely leaves any player completely out of online trade discussion. But after Theo Epstein admitted there was a possibility the Cubs could trade away one or more young position players to bolster the starting rotation, well, Russell’s name came up.

And he saw it.

“There was a lot of trade talk,” Russell said Saturday. “My initial thoughts were, I hope it doesn’t happen, but wherever I go, I’m going to try to bring what I bring to the table here. It’s a good thing that it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m happy being in a Cubs uniform, I want to be in a Cubs uniform, for sure. But there was some talk out there. If I got traded, then I got traded, but that’s not the case.”

No, it’s not, as the Cubs solved those pitching questions with free-agent spending, bringing in Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood to replace the departed Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. It means Russell, along with oft-discussed names like Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Javy Baez, are all still Cubs.

While the outside world might have expected one of those guys to be moved in some sort of blockbuster trade for Chris Archer or some other All-Star arm, the Cubs’ young core remains intact, another reason why they’re as much a favorite to win the World Series as any team out there.

“I’m really not surprised. The core is still here. Who would want to break that up? It’s a beautiful thing,” Russell said. “Javy and I in the middle. Schwarber, sometimes playing catcher but mainly outfield. And then (Kris Bryant) over there in the hot corner, and of course (Anthony) Rizzo at first. You’ve got a Gold Glover in right field (Jason Heyward). It’s really hard to break that up.

“When you do break that down on paper, we’ve got a lineup that could stack up with the best.”

This winter has been about moving on for Russell, who said he’s spent months working to strengthen his foot and shoulder after they limited him to 110 games last season, the fewest he played in his first three big league campaigns.

And so for Russell, the formula for returning to his 2016 levels of offensive aptitude isn’t a difficult one: stay on the field.

“Especially with the injuries, I definitely wanted to showcase some more of my talent last year than I displayed,” Russell said. “So going into this year, it’s mainly just keeping a good mental — just staying level headed. And also staying healthy and producing and being out there on the field.

“Next step for me, really just staying out there on the field. I really want to see what I can do as far as helping the team if I can stay healthy for a full season. I think if I just stay out there on the field, I’m going to produce.”

While the decrease in being on the field meant lower numbers from a “counting” standpoint — the drop from 21 homers in 2016 to 12 last year, the drop from 95 RBIs to 43 can in part be attributed to the lower number of games — certain rate stats looked different, too. His on-base percentage dropped from .321 in 2016 to .304 last year.

Russell also struggled during the postseason, picking up just six hits in 36 plate appearances in series against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out 13 times in 10 postseason games.

Of course, he wasn’t alone. That World Series hangover was team-wide throughout the first half of the season. And even though the Cubs scored 824 runs during the regular season, the second most in the National League and the fourth most in baseball, plenty of guys had their offensive struggles: Schwarber, Heyward and Ben Zobrist, to name a few.

“You can’t take anything for granted. So whenever you win a World Series or you do something good, you just have to live in the moment,” Russell said. “It was a tough season last year because we were coming off winning the World Series and the World Series hangover and all that. This year, we had a couple months off, a couple extra weeks off, and I think a lot of guys took advantage of that. I know I did. And now that we’re here in spring training, we’re going to get back at it.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

Jon Lester has arrived at Cubs camp, and he’s pleased with the new-look rotation full of potential aces. Kelly Crull and Vinnie Duber discuss the 5-man unit, and where Mike Montgomery fits into the Cubs’ plans.

Plus, Kelly and Vinnie talk Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber, along with the continuing free agent stalemate surrounding Jake Arrieta.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here: