Cubs still in position to make the big trade when they need it


Cubs still in position to make the big trade when they need it

Plan A would be the best way to describe this offseason, the Cubs getting exactly what they felt they needed to augment a 97-win team in John Lackey, Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward.

That $272 million spending spree only cost money and two draft picks, meaning the Cubs will plan for worst-case scenarios and can still make the big trade when they absolutely need it.    

That day is coming. But the star-studded cast that needed security to move around the Sheraton Grand Chicago over the weekend will largely be the same group that reports to Arizona in February.

This is Year 5 for the Theo Epstein administration and the Cubs still haven’t really sacrificed an elite prospect in assembling a team that advanced to the National League Championship Series last season.  

“We were trying to acquire as much young talent as we could,” said Jason McLeod, the senior vice president of scouting and player development, as Cubs Convention shut down on Sunday. “But I think we’re in that area now where we do have volume.

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“We have some prospects and we have guys that are blocked, so to speak, when you look at the corners with Kris (Bryant) and ‘Rizz’ (Anthony Rizzo). We’ve got a really good everyday lineup up there. (So) I think we certainly would be more open to it now.”

Epstein called the odds of pulling off a major trade this month “pretty slim” and said: “It’s more likely than not that we’re done with any significant moves.”

At least until the Cubs get past Opening Day and see how Jake Arrieta responds after throwing almost 250 innings during his Cy Young Award year, whether or not outfielder Jorge Soler can stay healthy and if Joe Maddon’s bullpen needs another power arm.

“There’s no doubt we’ve transitioned,” Epstein said, “(from) that phase where we’ve been building through the minor leagues almost exclusively to get them to Wrigley and form a core that we can build around.

“There are more players coming who are going to make an impact in Wrigley. But I do think we have surplus in certain areas. And as we get into the 2016 season, we know things are going to go wrong. We know guys are going to get hurt. We know needs are going to arise.

“We like to have the ability to adjust midstream, because we’re not smart enough to know exactly how we’re going to have to fix the team. But we probably know we are going to have to fix certain areas.

“We’re going to probably dip into our minor-league system, at times, and make trades and try to make the 2016 team better midstream, so we can win eight more games than we did last year.”

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The Cubs didn’t have the financial flexibility or the frontline pitching prospects or the stomach to make a huge trade before the July 31 deadline last summer.  

The Cubs were a third-place team at that point and the reasonable position figured to be: Why go all-in for a coin-flip wild-card game? That group caught fire in August, September and early October and there are only World Series expectations now.   

So the Cubs continue to be linked in trade rumors, but as Epstein said: “That’s not our fault.”

If the Tampa Bay Rays were that serious about making a deal, president of baseball operations Matt Silverman probably wouldn’t be talking about the Cubs on MLB Network Radio.

It’s also fair to wonder how much the Rays would actually want to help the Cubs after pushing so hard for MLB to investigate the Maddon hire, turning the manager’s contractual opt-out right into a tampering case.

“We’re very happy with our roster right now,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “It fits our manager really well. We have tons of guys he can move all over the field. We have a lot of versatile pitchers.

“If we had to go to Mesa tomorrow, we’d be OK with that. If something makes sense over the next month and makes us better, obviously, we’ll do it. But we’re not looking for big changes.”  

Lackey is the 200-innings workhorse with two World Series rings, a take-charge attitude and a sense of urgency at the age of 37.

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Zobrist is Maddon’s super-utility guy and the clutch hitter who helped turn the Kansas City Royals into champions after a midseason trade from the Oakland A’s.

Heyward is a three-time Gold Glove outfielder whose teams have averaged almost 92 wins during his first six seasons in the big leagues – and he’s still only 26.

But the Cubs can’t count on being as lucky and as healthy as they were last year, and all these young players won’t automatically stay on this upward trajectory.

Willson Contreras – who won a Southern League batting title last year and will begin this season at Triple-A Iowa – is projected as a frontline catcher in the majors and essentially viewed as untouchable. Gleyber Torres – the 19-year-old shortstop who got a $1.7 million bonus out of Venezuela – would also probably be in that off-limits category.   

But scan the rest of Baseball America’s top-10 list and you see first-round picks Ian Happ and Albert Almora – plus outfielders Billy McKinney and Eloy Jimenez and third baseman Jeimer Candelario – in what Epstein still believes is at least a top-third farm system.  

Even after winning the offseason, the Cubs still understand they will eventually have to give up future assets to get the missing pieces for a World Series contender.  

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 30th homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 30th homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa hit the 30-homer threshold on June 21, 1998 in only his 71st game of the season. For perspective, the 2018 Cubs leader in homers on June 21 is Javy Baez with 14 and Mike Trout leads all of baseball with only 23.

At this point, Mark McGwire was ahead of Sosa, but the Cubs slugger was pulling closer. McGwire had 33 dingers on June 21 while Ken Griffey Jr. had 28 and Greg Vaughn had 25.

Sosa' June 21 homer came off Tyler Green and was his 5th blast of the series against the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field that year. But the Cubs lost that series, despite Sosa's efforts.

Fun fact: Sosa drove in 10 runs in the three-game series with the Phillies that summer while the rest of his teammates combined for only 9 RBI.

Podcast: Wild week at Wrigley wraps up with Cubs showing what they’re made of


Podcast: Wild week at Wrigley wraps up with Cubs showing what they’re made of

The Cubs have been a different team the last six weeks, looking a lot more like the resilient bunch from 2016 than the sluggish 2017 squad that lacked energy. After some wacky circumstances Monday and a tough loss in Game 1 of Tuesday’s doubleheader, the Cubs came out and showed what they’re made of in the last two games of the series against the Dodgers, a team that knocked them out of postseason play last fall.

Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki sum up the longest short homestand (or shortest long homestand?), updating the status of Yu Darvish, Brandon Morrow, the Cubs pitching staff and how the team is rounding into form as the season’s halfway mark approaches.

Check out the entire podcast here: