Cubs

Gleyber Torres may become a star, but Yankees GM credits Cubs for making Aroldis Chapman trade

Gleyber Torres may become a star, but Yankees GM credits Cubs for making Aroldis Chapman trade

The Cubs understood Gleyber Torres could become a star in New York and part of the next Yankee dynasty. But team president Theo Epstein sensed the opportunity and framed the blockbuster Aroldis Chapman trade this way: “If not now, when?”

Torres’ ETA in The Bronx is unclear, but the dynamic shortstop is definitely on a fast track after becoming the youngest MVP in Arizona Fall League history. The Cubs made an offer the Yankees couldn’t refuse, the same way the Cleveland Indians felt a sense of urgency to get game-changing reliever Andrew Miller.

After running the franchise’s first trade-deadline sale in a generation, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman “watched every out” of an epic World Series that went all the way to a 10th inning in Game 7.  

“I wanted Cleveland and Chicago to be rewarded, in my mind, for stepping up,” Cashman said. “They stepped up to get those guys. We’re hopeful that we’ll get what we want out of the deal down the line. It’s good to see that those guys got what they bargained for on the front end.”

At the age of 19, Torres led the AFL in batting average (.403) and on-base percentage (.513) while finishing second in slugging percentage (.645). Within the 15 years the AFL has handed out an MVP award, the winners have included can’t-miss prospects who never made it big, as well as future Colorado Rockies star Nolan Arenado (2011) and National League MVP Kris Bryant (2013).

The Cubs didn’t have an obvious infield spot for Torres with Bryant, All-Star shortstop Addison Russell and playoff hero Javier Baez all under club control through the 2021 season. Instead of racing to the bottom for a better draft pick, the Yankees tried to keep a competitive product on the field and wanted to bring back Adam Warren, the swingman who struggled to find a role in Chicago after being swapped for Starlin Castro.  

The Castro/Warren trade executed during last year’s winter meetings also allowed the Cubs to sign World Series MVP Ben Zobrist. The sense of freedom Epstein has felt since leaving the Boston Red Sox includes dealing with Cashman, another blunt executive who had been part of the Evil Empire at the heights of The Rivalry.

“He’s a straight shooter,” Cashman said. “He knows what he wants. He cuts to the chase. I have a saying: ‘Just land the plane.’ And he lands the plane.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

The Cubs didn’t completely gut their farm system, either, by throwing in two minor-league outfielders (Billy McKinney and Rashad Crawford). Ian Happ – the switch-hitter drafted with the ninth overall pick in 2015 – homered twice during Saturday’s championship game and helped lead the Mesa Solar Sox to an AFL title. The Cubs also hung onto outfielder Eloy Jimenez ($2.8 million bonus), the other big-time international prospect they added during the summer of 2013, when Torres signed out of Venezuela for $1.7 million. 

The Cubs also didn’t give up Baez or Kyle Schwarber, the two players the Yankees viewed as a starting point for Miller, who can still impact two more pennant races in Cleveland (at the reasonable cost of $18 million through 2018).

The Indians paid the price, giving up a four-player package headlined by outfielder Clint Frazier (the fifth overall pick in the 2013 draft) and left-hander Justus Sheffield (the No. 31 pick in the 2014 draft) to get what turned out to be the American League Championship Series MVP. And without Chapman, it’s hard to see the Cubs riding in that championship parade down Lake Shore Drive and Michigan Avenue.

“They’re high-end performers,” Cashman said. “They really did a great job for both of their teams. That’s why they got to the World Series. I just wish we had as many great players to surround those guys with as the Indians and the Cubs had. That’s what we were aspiring to get to.”

After a clumsy rollout where Chapman appeared to be disinterested and unprepared for explaining his 30-game suspension under Major League Baseball’s domestic-violence policy, the superstar closer began to fit into an easygoing clubhouse and made a strong overall impression on manager Joe Maddon.

If Chapman answered some of the personality questions, the Cubs still projected a rental pitcher because of looming financial commitments, potential holes in their rotation, a creative philosophy toward bullpen construction and what might ultimately require close to a nine-figure investment for a top-of-the-market closer.

Chapman appeared in 13 playoff games, notching two wins and four saves, working around three blown saves, including what could have been a disastrous Game 7 if he hadn’t bounced back to hold the Indians scoreless in the ninth inning before the rain delay at Progressive Field. Maddon clearly had trust issues with his bullpen, asking Chapman to throw 97 pitches combined as the Cubs came back from a 3-1 deficit to win the World Series.

That’s why Epstein gave up one of the game’s best prospects and didn’t really look back. But Cashman dismissed the idea that another big-market team’s successful teardown might have made it easier to sell a new Yankee Way to the Steinbrenner family, the New York media and a fan base accustomed to winning at all costs.

“We weren’t pointing at the Cubs,” Cashman said. “It just wasn’t an easy sell for our ownership. And I’m glad that they made the decision to allow me to do what we did.”

The Cubs are mixing up their rotation as Jon Lester nears return

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USA TODAY

The Cubs are mixing up their rotation as Jon Lester nears return

The Cubs don't actually need a fifth starter until April 27, but they're going with one anyway, handing Tyler Chatwood the ball for the finale with the Diamondbacks Easter Sunday.

Thanks to an off-day Thursday and another one on Monday, the Cubs could've gotten through until next Saturday with only a four-man rotation and everybody still working on regular rest. Thanks to last Sunday's snowout at Wrigley Field (when Chatwood was slated to start), that may have allowed them to weather the storm without needing anybody to take Jon Lester's place in the rotation after he injured his hamstring during the Cubs' home opener on April 8.

Speaking of Lester, he's doing "really well," manager Joe Maddon said Friday and the rotation's ace is close to throwing a simulated game. 

However, the Cubs are going to play matchups and roll Chatwood out on Sunday and push back Jose Quintana to face the Dodgers in the first game of that series Tuesday night at Wrigley Field.

Maddon said the Cubs wanted to keep Chatwood involved and there's the added bonus of giving Quintana, Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks and Yu Darvish an extra day (or two) off to help keep them fresh throughout a long season.

But there's also a matchup advantage, in that the Diamondbacks struggle more vs. righties than lefties and the Dodgers — while still a prolific offense no matter who's pitching — are a bit worse against lefties. So tossing Chatwood Sunday means the Cubs throw a trio of righties against the Diamondbacks and now line up two lefties against the Dodgers (Quintana-Hamels-Hendricks).

The Diamondbacks lead the National League in many offensive categories off lefties — including runs, homers, total bases and batting average — and are slashing .304/.349/.532 (.881 OPS) off southpaws. They're hitting only .248/.322/.436 (.758 OPS) against righties. 

The Dodgers' disparity isn't as large — .825 OPS vs. LHP, .884 OPS vs. RHP — but many of their top hitters (Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, Joc Pederson) are left-handed and struggle against southpaws. 

As for Chatwood, he hasn't pitched since April 10, when he threw an inning of relief against the Pirates in a loss. He has walked 5 batters in 6 innings this season and his outings have never gone longer than 36 pitches, so it's fair to wonder how long he'll be able to throw in Sunday's game. 

However, he got some work in the bullpen before going out to the mound for that April 10 appearance and he threw a lot in Miami earlier this week, Maddon said. 

"He really believes he can throw 75-plus pitches, which I don't doubt," Maddon said. "It's just a matter of how tough the outs are — if the outs are tough and he has to work too hard, it can be different.

"But if he keeps throwing like he has been throwing, it's reasonable to expect at least 80 pitches. We'll just watch it and let him go and he'll let us know just by observation."

Even if Chatwood can't give the Cubs much length, this lines up well in that the bullpen had Thursday to rest and another off-day Monday to recover if they're needed to pick up the slack on Sunday.

Chatwood has not started a game since Aug. 18 last year, when he lasted just 2 innings and allowed 3 runs on 3 walks and 2 hits. 

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Sports Talk Live Podcast: Have the Cubs turned the corner?

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Have the Cubs turned the corner?

Hub Arkush, David Schuster and Mark Grote join Kap on the panel.

0:00- The Cubs sweep the Marlins and have won 7 of their last 10. Have they finally turned the corner?

8:00- The White Sox keep playing but the controversy surrounding Tim Anderson's bat-flip-heard-round-the-world continues. Does baseball need to lighten up or does Anderson deserve some blame?

14:30- The guys remember Chet Coppock. The "Godfather of Sports Talk Radio" died at the age of 70.

18:00- Carlos Zambrano drops by the studio. He talks to Kap about his comeback with the Chicago Dogs, his thoughts on the Cubs winning it all and his hopes to once again pitch in the majors.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below: