Cubs

Win now: Cubs send message in blockbuster Aroldis Chapman trade with Yankees

Win now: Cubs send message in blockbuster Aroldis Chapman trade with Yankees

The Cubs put the finishing touches on a blockbuster deal to acquire superstar closer Aroldis Chapman from the New York Yankees on Monday, a win-now move that cemented their status as World Series favorites. 

This is why Theo Epstein’s baseball operations group spent years collecting long-term assets, so the Cubs could bundle young talent and get the final piece they needed for October without completely mortgaging their future and maybe ride in a parade down Michigan Avenue.

“This was a show of faith in our big-league team,” Epstein said before a 5-4 walk-off loss to the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field. “It was an aggressive move. It was tough to give up what we gave up, but if not now, when? This was the appropriate move given where we are and what we’re trying to accomplish.”

The headliner for the Yankees is Gleyber Torres, a consensus top prospect and a defensively gifted shortstop out of Venezuela. Torres is only 19 years old and had already advanced to the high Class-A level, but he didn’t have a clear path to Wrigley Field with middle infielders Addison Russell and Javier Baez already in place.

No one can replace Chapman’s 105-mph fastball, but the Yankees also wanted Adam Warren to help patch together their pitching staff again and not make this seem like a White Flag Trade to the New York fans and media. Warren – who had been optioned back to Triple-A Iowa on Sunday to stretch out as a starter – never really carved out a role in Chicago after arriving through the Starlin Castro trade.

Chasing the franchise’s first championship since 1908, the Cubs also gave up two minor-league outfielders: Billy McKinney and Rashad Crawford. McKinney – a first-round pick acquired along with Russell from the Oakland A’s in the Jeff Samardzija/Jason Hammel trade – had been hitting .252 with one homer and a .677 OPS in 88 games at Double-A Tennessee this season. Crawford, 22, had teamed up with Torres at advanced Class-A Myrtle Beach, hitting .255 with 22 stolen bases in 83 games.

The cost is high for a rental player who can become a free agent after this season – Epstein signaled the Cubs have not engaged in extension talks with Chapman’s camp. But there is no one else out there quite like Chapman, and the Cubs can process the trade knowing they are still saturated with young position players, and didn’t have to give up Kyle Schwarber, a slugger the Yankees coveted in any deal for All-Star reliever Andrew Miller. 

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!  

The Cubs also rationalized the 30-game suspension Chapman served this season under Major League Baseball’s new domestic violence policy after an incident with his girlfriend in South Florida last fall, betting on manager Joe Maddon, a strong coaching staff and a good clubhouse mix of veterans and young players.

“I’m sure that you’re going to hear some kind of negativity,” Maddon said. “I totally understand and get that. However, I’m always about moving things forward. I’m not going to sit and reflect on that. He’s owned up to it. He’s moved on from that. He served his 30-game sentence. 

“Maybe that might not have been good enough for some people. And I get that, too. At the end of the day, he’s a Chicago Cub right now. That’s my responsibility as the manager of this team to make this thing work as well as it possibly can for us and for him. So I’m eager to get to know him. I really am.”

This allows Maddon to shorten games and change the entire shape of his bullpen, moving closer Hector Rondon to the eighth inning while freeing up setup guy Pedro Strop and incorporating new additions Joe Nathan and Mike Montgomery and not pushing rookie Carl Edwards Jr. too hard.    

It’s also a move against the Washington Nationals and San Francisco Giants, two first-place teams in the market for bullpen help that now might have to face Chapman in October. Good luck with that. Chapman converted 20-of-21 save chances for the Yankees and has 590 strikeouts in 350-plus innings in The Show.
 
“You can’t take for granted the position that we’re in right now,” Epstein said. “We have a dynamic and healthy starting pitching staff. We have a really talented bullpen, two MVP candidates in their prime, moving into their prime. We have a lot of talented hitters up and down the lineup, a really great defense. And they’ve worked their tail off to build up this nice lead.

“We believe in these guys. We feel like we have a chance to do something special, but there’s a lot of work ahead to finish strong down the stretch and make sure we get into the postseason. And then the goal is to win three postseason series.

“That’s not an easy thing to do. You need dynamic players. We felt like we really could benefit from an elite talent, a game-changing pitcher like Aroldis Chapman. 

“As you get down the stretch into the big games and hopefully into the postseason, those types of late-inning relievers take on even more (significance), even greater value, available to pitch every game, changing the scope of the game and the outlook of the game.”

And maybe even change the course of franchise history, because this move is all about Chapman getting the final out in this year’s World Series.  

Theo Epstein brushes aside rumors: 'There's essentially zero trade talks involving the Cubs'

Theo Epstein brushes aside rumors: 'There's essentially zero trade talks involving the Cubs'

No, the Cubs are not currently talking to the Baltimore Orioles about bringing Manny Machado to the North Side of Chicago.

So says Theo Epstein, the Cubs president of baseball operations who met with the media at Wrigley Field ahead of Friday's series opener with the San Francisco Giants.

Epstein vehemently shot down the notion of trade talks and specified the major diffence between trade rumors and trade talks, while refusing to comment on Machado in particular.

"I'm not addressing any specific rumor or any player with another team," Epstein said. "I would never talk about that in a million years. The simple way to put it is there's been a lot of trade rumors involving the Cubs and there's essentially zero trade talks involving the Cubs.

"There's a real disparity between the noise and the reality and unfortunately, sometimes that puts a player or two that we have in a real tough circumstance. And that's my job to clarify there's nothing going on right now.

"We have more than enough ability to win the division, win the World Series and we really need to focus on our roster and getting the most out of our ability and finding some consistency. Constant focus outside the organization doesn't do us any good, especially when it's not based in reality right now."

The Cubs have presented a united front publicly in support of Addison Russell, whose name has been the one bandied about most as a potential leading piece in any move for Machado.

After all, the Cubs have won a World Series and never finished worse than an NLCS berth with Russell as their shortstop and he's only 24 with positive signs of progression offensively.

Trading away 3.5 years of control of Russell for 3-4 months of Machado is the type of bold, go-for-it move the Cubs did in 2016 when their championship drought was well over 100 years.

Now, the championship drought is only one season old and the window of contention is expected to remain open until through at least the 2021 season.

Epstein likes to point out that every season is sacred, but at what cost? The Cubs front office is still very much focused on the future beyond 2018.

"Everybody's talking about making trades in May — the first part of the season is trying to figure out who you are," Epstein said. "What are the strengths of the club? What are the weaknesses of the club? What's the character of the club? What position is the club gonna be in as we get deeper in the season? What's our short-term outlook? What's our long-term outlook? What's the chemistry in the clubhouse?

"All those things. It's a process to get there and figure it out. If you rush to those kinds of judgments, you can oftentimes make things worse. I think it's important to figure out exactly who you are and give guys a chance to play and find their level and see how all the pieces fit together before you make your adjustments."

So there's no chance we could see the Cubs once again jump the market and make an early deal like they did last year for Jose Quintana or five years ago for Jake Arrieta? Will they definitely wait another five weeks until July to make a move?

"It's just the natural order of things," Epstein said. "We wouldn't be opposed to doing something, but that's not the case right now. It's not happening."

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 10th, 11th homers in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 10th, 11th homers 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 is heating up, but even a red-hot Sosa doesn't automatically equal wins for the Cubs.

Slammin' Sammy notched his first multi-homer game in 1998 in a 9-5 loss to Kevin Millwood and the Atlanta Braves. Sosa drove in 4 of the Cubs' 5 runs on a solo shot in the 4th inning and a three-run shot in the 8th. 

Sosa tallied 830 feet of homers in the game, with his first blast going 410 feet and the second shot measured at 420 feet.

The big game bumped Sosa's overall season slash line to .337/.411/.551 (.962 OPS) with 11 homers and 35 RBI.

Fun fact: Mickey Morandini hit second for the Cubs in this game and went 4-for-4, but somehow only scored one run despite hitting just in front of Sosa all game. That's because Morandini was caught stealing to end the 3rd inning, leaving Sosa to lead off the 4th inning with a solo blast.