The Cubs won’t feel the same hangover after the July 31 trade deadline. Now it’s just waiting to see how strong the adrenaline boost will be for the playoff hunt.
“We’re used to selling right now,” said Anthony Rizzo, who’s matured into a two-time All-Star first baseman during this rebuilding process. Rizzo’s definitely noticed a lot less clubhouse chatter about all the rumors.
“There’s not guys saying: ‘Oh, where am I going? Where am I going? Where am I going?’ It’s more of a (feeling like): ‘Let’s just keep winning. Keep winning — and see what we do.’”
The Houston Astros jumped the market on Thursday, acquiring lefty Scott Kazmir from the Oakland A’s for an A-ball catcher (Jacob Nottingham) and an A-ball pitcher (Daniel Mengden), which could set some sort of baseline if the Cubs settle for a rental pitcher.
The Cubs will get an up-close look at a potential building block on Saturday afternoon at Wrigley Field, where Cole Hamels is scheduled to make what could be his final start in a Philadelphia Phillies uniform.
There are many obstacles to a Hamels deal, from the financial restrictions imposed on Theo Epstein’s baseball operations department, to the awkward power structure in Philadelphia, where general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is on the hot seat and Hall of Fame executive Pat Gillick is working with incoming president/ex-Cub Andy MacPhail during the transition.
Remember, in the past the Phillies haven’t liked the idea of Javier Baez as a centerpiece to any Hamels deal. And the middle infielder hasn’t played in a game with Triple-A Iowa since early June while waiting for his fractured finger to heal (though his rehab assignment should ramp up soon).
Starlin Castro is a three-time All-Star, but his trade value has nosedived to the point where the Cubs are probably stuck with him (and his bounce-back potential) for now. Castro’s .582 OPS ranks 22nd out of the 23 qualified shortstops in the majors.
Still, Epstein’s style is to kick the tires on everything and never rule anything out, so you know the Cubs will do something to upgrade a team that’s 51-43 and holds a half-game lead over the San Francisco Giants for the second wild card.
“It just sends a message to the clubhouse that they believe in us,” veteran catcher David Ross said. “We believe in each other. Especially on winning teams, you believe in one another. You believe you’re good. And then when the front office even backs you with that, it just sends more confidence to the guys.”
Epstein hates the Us vs. Them storyline, pointing out how aggressive the Cubs have been in fast-tracking Kyle Schwarber, patching up the bullpen and accepting the “Super Two” financial implications with Kris Bryant and Addison Russell.
Manager Joe Maddon will take Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks: “You can put them up against any top four with any team in baseball.”
But with Tsuyoshi Wada, Clayton Richard, Dallas Beeler and Donn Roach going 2-for-12 in quality starts, the Cubs at least need someone to stabilize the back of the rotation.
“Everybody else does, (too),” Maddon said. “Honestly, everybody’s looking for that other guy.”
Ross remembered the bounce the Boston Red Sox got from that three-team deal involving the White Sox and Detroit Tigers on July 31, 2013. Jake Peavy was six years removed from his Cy Young season, but he went 4-1 with a 4.04 ERA in 10 starts for the Red Sox down the stretch (and had three up-and-down outings in the playoffs).
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“At the time, he was probably the best starting pitcher available on the market,” Ross said. “They gave up a guy — Jose Iglesias — who’s really good. So you saw the sacrifice they made to go get another starting pitcher that you needed.
“It was like: ‘Wow.’ And who knows what would have happened without him? But we ended up winning the World Series.
“It just solidifies (that) everybody’s on the same page. Sometimes, you hate to feel that business side creep in, but it’s part of it.
“As a team, you get that boost when they get a strong player. But it’s not like you lose confidence when they don’t, either. It’s kind of a looking-back thing that I’m able to do right now.”
Epstein also looks back on the history of deadline deals and feels like those trades usually favor the sellers. It helped lay the foundation at Wrigley Field and will certainly influence how much of the future the Cubs are willing to sacrifice now.
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Once Ryan Dempster stopped playing “Golden Tee” in the office and agreed to go to the Texas Rangers, the Cubs could cash in his final 12 starts in 2012 and add Hendricks to their farm system.
“We got a good group here,” Hendricks said. “It just seems like we can’t hit that stride that we want to hit. But the guys in this clubhouse can definitely get it done.
“It’s just — I don’t know what it is — something’s just got to change. Something’s got to click. But it will.
“If we get some guys at the deadline, or if something happens, great. But if not, we’ll be fine, either way.”
Rizzo — who picks his spots when he wants to send a message through the media — put it this way: “As of now, if the season ends, we’re in the playoffs. That’s where we want to be.”