Cubs: Why didn’t Theo Epstein make a splash at the trade deadline?


Cubs: Why didn’t Theo Epstein make a splash at the trade deadline?

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.”

[MORE: Starlin Castro relieved the trade deadline is over]

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.”

[RELATED: Cubs strengthen rotation with trade for Dan Haren at deadline]

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.”

Pete Ricketts and Omaha pastor reconcile, audio of contentious meeting surfaces

Pete Ricketts and Omaha pastor reconcile, audio of contentious meeting surfaces

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts and Omaha pastor Jarrod Parker met Wednesday, after a disagreement earlier in the week sparked public conversation about the relationship between the local government and the black community.

“We embraced, and we shook hands,” Parker, the pastor of St. Mark Baptist Church in Omaha, said in a live video on Facebook. “We met and vowed to work together in a spirit of peace and reconciliation.”

It was Parker’s second video this week about Ricketts, who is also part of the Cubs family ownership, but who stepped down from the Board of Directors when he took office. On Monday, after a meeting with local government officials and black community members, Parker posted an impassioned video in which he said Ricketts called black leaders “you people.”

In a statement, Ricketts said, “I chose my words poorly, and apologized when it became apparent that I had caused offense.”

Audio reportedly of a portion of Monday's meeting surfaced and circulated online Wednesday. NBC Sports Chicago obtained a copy of that audio.

After a break in the audio, Ricketts can be heard saying, “Where the hell were all you guys when I was trying to—”

Another man cuts him off saying, “Excuse me, what did you just say?”

Several other voices chime in, drowning each other out.

Parker addressed the audio, and the criticism he's received since it surfaced, in his Facebook video.

Posted by St Mark Baptist Church on Wednesday, June 3, 2020

“There’s sound that is kind of washing out what was being said after ‘you guys.’  Let me say this, as a pastor, as a man, … I was sitting right next to him. I stand by what I said, and the governor apologized for it. I thanked him as a man for doing that.”

On Tuesday Morning, Ricketts said on a local radio station, 96.7 The Boss, that he planned to speak with Parker.

“I’m absolutely open,” Ricketts said. “I think what we want to do is let everybody’s emotions kind of cool down here a little bit, but I will follow up with the pastor and apologize to him directly and certainly I apologized to all the folks in the room yesterday as well, while we were still there.”

Parker said he’s uninterested in the argument over the meeting audio.

“I hope that this is a message that as much as we disagree and as much as we can hurt each other and be intensive,” Parker said, “we have to come back to the table. Black people, white people, young people, old people, Christian people, non-Christian, people of all faiths, all colors … we’ve got to come back together now.”

How MLB’s ‘wonderful opportunity’ might turn into a ‘catastrophic result’

How MLB’s ‘wonderful opportunity’ might turn into a ‘catastrophic result’

When Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts or any other baseball owner claims publicly they’d be better off financially by not playing a 2020 season at all rather than accept some of the players’ terms, don’t fall for it.

That’s because whatever the short-term hit — and for teams such as the Cubs it might well be substantial — the long-term damage to the sport from skipping a season over financial negotiations during a global pandemic could be “catastrophic,” according to at least one sports economist.

In fact, baseball might face more dire consequences in recouping fan interest and financial losses than its major-league sports counterparts for several reasons.

Baseball, like many industries, faces a potentially weak economy in general for the next couple of years because the impact of the COVID-19 crisis as it tries to rebound after a year of losses, regardless, noted sports economist Andrew Zimbalist said.

And sports could be further impacted by coronavirus fallout related to how many fans are allowed to gather in stadiums even by next year, and how many will be willing to do so.

But even beyond that, baseball could face a unique challenge compared to the other sports, Zimbalist said, if a season isn’t played because decades-long animus between owners and players cause these negotiations to break down.

“Especially during a time when most of America is suffering and baseball players have an average salary of almost $5 million, and owners of course are sitting on assets that are generally worth $1 billion and more, people don’t want to hear about squabbles between those two groups,” said Zimbalist, the longtime economics professor at Smith College who has published more than a dozen books on the economics of baseball and other sports.

Look no further than what happened after the 1994-95 strike and lockout, he said, when the full-season attendance equivalent in the 1995 return season represented more than a 20 percent decline from 1993.

“I would expect a similar impact now but the impact compounded for two reasons,” he said. “The economic situation [at large] is not as auspicious, and, two, all of this is happening during a pandemic when really everybody is suffering. It’s harder to understand or accept the owners and the players battling this out during a period of generalized depression and anxiety.”

Common sense? Sure. Most of us recognize the risk owners and players take anytime the millionaire-vs.-billionaire fight is waged publicly, especially at a time of such health, economic and social gravity, including the protests and unrest since the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police on Memorial Day.

RELATED: Cubs' Jason Heyward on racial injustice: 'It feels like a broken record'

But if baseball expects to rebound from a season missed because of money matters following a decade of record revenues and enormous gains in franchise values, then it might want to consider long and hard what the means for doing that will be.

Ricketts told ESPN on Tuesday that “the scale of losses across the league is biblical.”

Nobody disputes teams are dealing with almost zero revenue during the pandemic shutdown or the likelihood of a season of any length resulting in steep losses, especially without fans allowed in stadiums. The Cubs have been hit especially hard by the timing of the shutdown because it coincides with costs associated with the launch of their new TV network.

Ricketts told ESPN the teams and league don’t have “a pile” of cash from recent seasons of record industry revenues, because, he said, teams put that money back into their teams, including payrolls.

“No one expects to have to draw down on the reserves from the past,” Ricketts said. "Every team has to figure out a way to plug the hole.”

That would seem to make an offer by the union to defer a percentage of salaries a viable solution in negotiations. But Zimbalist said that while some teams might have a cash-flow problem, he doesn’t believe the league or teams generally face that issue — rendering deferrals with interest of “minimal value.”

Whatever it takes to close the gap in negotiations, that ticking baseball is hearing could start sounding a lot more like a detonation device than a clock before long.

If they cancel the season and try to dig out later, there’s no Cal Ripken Jr. consecutive-games streak just waiting to resume and provide a made-for-TV, record-setting moment.

Not only are there no Sammy Sosas and Mark McGwires on the visible horizon, but even that boost of interest to the game in 1998 turned a few years later into one if its biggest scandals.

And this, perhaps most of all: The average baseball fan is a white guy in his 50s — the game’s core consumer is aging out fast with the generations behind him too often showing indifference to an increasingly slow-paced game with decreasing action and more strikeouts than hits.

“A greater sensitivity of fan response in part because of shifting culture across the generations? I think that’s true,” said Zimbalist, who includes in that the increasing choices and popularity of video games.

“Baseball’s status as a national pastime is certainly being challenged,” he said. “Those elements will certainly complicate baseball’s effort to rejuvenate their fan base if they don’t come back.

“The other side of the coin,” he added, “is if they do come back and play baseball this summer, when people are basically starving for sports, there’s potentially an opportunity to extend its allure to more and more people and generate a level of passion and avidity that baseball hasn’t seen in a while.

"There’s a wonderful opportunity awaiting them if they can get their act together, and there’s an almost catastrophic result if they can’t. … I think both sides are fully aware of that.”

RELATED: Major League Baseball swinging and missing on big opportunity

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Chicago Cubs easily on your device.