Are the Cubs done dealing? Theo Epstein might be the baseball executive you’d least want to play poker against, and his team didn’t stop after 97 wins last season — committing almost $290 million to free agents — or hold onto the organization’s top prospect when the New York Yankees wanted Gleyber Torres in the blockbuster Aroldis Chapman trade.
“I wouldn’t put anything past him,” pitching coach Chris Bosio said.
That win-now impulse led the Cubs to Chapman, who instantly raised the energy level at Wrigley Field on Thursday night just by walking in from the bullpen, wowing more than 40,000 fans with his 100-mph heat and getting a four-out save to close out a 3-1 win over the White Sox.
“As fans of the game, you always see what Aroldis does,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “If he’s pitching, and you’re flipping through the channels, you stay on him just to see what he does, because he’s that type of player. What he does for our bullpen now is just incredible.”
This is the blueprint for October with enough timely hitting, a quality start from John Lackey, Pedro Strop working the seventh inning and manager Joe Maddon calling for Chapman to replace Hector Rondon with a runner on third and two outs in the eighth. Chapman threw Melky Cabrera six straight fastballs that registered between 98.6 and 102.3 mph on MLB.com’s Gameday, striking him out swinging.
“I was ready,” Chapman said through temporary translator/catcher Miguel Montero. “I’m pretty pumped to be part of it.”
While the Cubs unveiled grand plans to construct a future World Series winner, Bosio became the no-nonsense foreman supervising a crew of veterans, short-timers and sign-and-flip guys.
Ex-manager Dale Sveum and coaches like Bosio, Mike Borzello and Lester Strode installed the game-planning system and did the grunt work to build up Ryan Dempster, Scott Feldman, Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, putting in all that effort only to see them shipped off to playoff contenders in trade-deadline deals.
That roster churn yielded Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta, Strop, Justin Grimm, Carl Edwards Jr., Addison Russell, Hammel returning as a free agent and a trade chip (minor-league outfielder Billy McKinney) used in the Chapman deal.
“To be able to get a guy like him is a big step for the organization,” Bosio said. “It definitely sent ripple effects to everybody who’s a Cubs fan. I got so many phone calls and text messages.
“This one got a lot of people’s attention. Not just in baseball, but all over the world. He’s a headline guy coming to a headline city.”
Like virtually everyone else, the Cubs are looking for younger starting pitchers who come with years of club control, because right now only Hendricks and Jon Lester can be penciled into the 2018 rotation (when the $155 million lefty will be 34 years old).
The Cubs also can’t ignore the offense, even after pouring so much capital into their lineup, because Jason Heyward’s .632 OPS ranks 151st out of the 157 qualified major-league hitters, Montero is hitting .198, Willson Contreras will be making rookie adjustments and Kyle Schwarber’s left-handed presence will be missed even more against elite pitching in October.
If the Yankees decide to sell another rental player — and the Cubs are willing to mortgage their farm system — Carlos Beltran would be a good fit as a switch-hitter with an excellent track record as a playoff performer (16 homers, 40 RBI and a 1.155 OPS in 52 postseason games).
“There’s still a good amount of time before the trade deadline,” Epstein said this week. “So we’re going to engage with every other team and see if there’s an opportunity to get better. Either tweaks to the roster now, but I’d say it’s more focused on getting additional depth for this season and possibly making a move that makes sense for our longer-term picture, next season and beyond.”
The Cubs have until Monday afternoon’s non-waiver deadline to try to complete the World Series puzzle. Why stop with Chapman during an all-in season?
“Now we’re the ones looking to add pieces, whether it be a bat or a pitcher,” Bosio said. “I wouldn’t put anything past ownership or the front office, because they know how much we’ve invested into this year, and how hard it is just to win a major-league game.”