With less than 24 hours to go until Monday’s non-waiver trade deadline, manager Joe Maddon expected the Cubs to be quiet this time.
“There’s nothing going on, as far as I know,” Maddon said before Sunday night’s 7-6, 12-inning, walk-off win over the Seattle Mariners. “Nothing. Nothing. Crickets.”
That wouldn’t have gone over well while sections of Wrigley Field booed spot starter Brian Matusz, and might not have initially registered with the casual fans tuning into ESPN to see baseball’s biggest story. Theo Epstein’s front office also won’t be content with the lineup simply because the Cubs came back from a 6-0 deficit and Seattle closer Steve Cishek blew a three-run, ninth-inning lead.
But the Cubs have a roster that keeps coming at you in waves and a manager who enjoys controlled chaos. This one ended while John Lackey, Wednesday’s scheduled starter, warmed up in the bullpen after seven different relievers combined to throw nine scoreless innings. It took Jason Heyward leading off the 12th inning with a line-drive double, hustling to third base on a Willson Contreras flyball, sprinting home on Jon Lester’s two-strike bunt and sliding headfirst to score the game-winning run.
The Cubs might have already made their biggest move this summer, stomaching Aroldis Chapman’s off-the-field baggage and acquiring the 105-mph closer last week from the New York Yankees.
So is this team good enough – as is – to win a championship? Ask the $155 million pitcher with two World Series rings and now his first career walk-off RBI.
“Yeah, I think so,” Lester said. “Any addition that they can give us is a bonus, (but) there are always other things involved – money, prospects, all that other stuff. We realize that if you just make that (Chapman trade), we still feel that we’re good enough to get where we want to go. Now it’s a matter of us doing it and staying healthy and playing.”
“Expect the unexpected” is also how general manager Jed Hoyer framed this trade deadline. The mighty Yankees became sellers for the first time in a generation, sending an All-Star reliever (Andrew Miller) to the Cleveland Indians on Sunday in another 4-for-1 deal.
While the small-market Indians – a cautious organization known for slow playing and using trade negotiations to gather better intelligence on their own farm system – also had an agreement in place with the Milwaukee Brewers to acquire Jonathan Lucroy. At least until the All-Star catcher used his no-trade protection to veto that deal.
The Cubs felt enough of a roster crunch over the weekend to send a valuable bench player (Tommy La Stella) and a trusted reliever during last year’s playoff run (Justin Grimm) down to Triple-A Iowa, where Trevor Cahill (knee) is stretching out on a rehab assignment and Albert Almora Jr. is itching for another promotion and the chance to become the 2017 Opening Day center fielder. Jorge Soler (hamstring) – another big-time playoff performer last year – is trying to get his timing down at Double-A Tennessee.
“If they do something, great,” Lester said. “That’s just kind of like that shot in the arm, that little boost for you. But if they don’t, I feel like we’re in a good place.”
In Maddon, the Cubs have a manager unafraid to push bullpen buttons by playing Travis Wood in left field, watching the crowd of 40,952 give him a standing ovation for an athletic catch at the brick wall in the seventh inning, and then summon the lefty reliever again for an eighth-inning matchup.
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In Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs have two leading MVP candidates in the middle of their lineup and 50 percent of an All-Star infield. In Jake Arrieta, the Cubs have the National League’s reigning Cy Young Award winner for what’s been a durable, reliable rotation, at a time when the price for pitching is skyrocketing.
In Chapman, the Cubs added the game’s most intimidating closer to a team that almost had a 99-percent chance to make the playoffs and is now 58-1 when leading entering the ninth inning.
Crickets? To the clubhouse, to the rest of a $10 billion industry, to anyone skeptical of The Plan, the Cubs already sent their message loud and clear with the Chapman trade.
“He was more of like a ‘want,’” Lester said. “We had a great back end of our bullpen. ‘Ronnie’ (Hector Rondon) and (Pedro) Strop have been doing a good job for us. When a talent like (Chapman) becomes available, it’s more of like when you’re a kid. You go to the toy aisle, you’re like: ‘Yeah, I want that.’ I don’t need it, but I want it, because it would be kind of cool.
“That’s the luxury (this organization has) now. We have that freedom to maybe trade away a few of these (prospects) and try to help us get a little bit better.”