The Cubs didn't land the biggest or sexiest names at the trade deadline, but the most aggressive team in the National League Central within a pandemic-limited landscape pulled off three trades in the final hour before the deadline to bolster the bullpen and lineup.
One day after trading for Rays outfielder José Martínez to address the team's struggles against left-handed pitching, the Cubs addressed their lack of lefty relief pitching with trades for Arizona's Andrew Chafin (plus a cash consideration) and Boston's Josh Osich, each for a player to be named later or cash considerations. And in the final minutes they also closed a deal for Tigers outfielder Cameron Maybin, sending infield prospect Zack Short to Detroit.
“Ultimately, when you look around at the names that were traded in baseball, it wasn’t the sort of star-power names you have in some years,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. “So our focus was on improving our bench, hitting left-handed pitching and getting more left-handed. And we addressed those things.”
Maybin's addition is less about hitting lefties than updating the bench with veteran production and outfield versatility in the place of struggling outfielder Albert Almora Jr., who was optioned to alternate-site South Bend.
The Cubs also expect to return Kris Bryant (finger/wrist) and Steven Souza Jr. (hamstring) from the injured list in the next few days -- Bryant likely in time for Tuesday's series opener in Pittsburgh.
Adding lefties to the bullpen has been a priority for weeks, with Kyle Ryan the only lefty in the pen after Brad Wieck went on the injured list early in the season. Hoyer said Tyler Chatwood's elbow injury Sunday -- which put lefty Jose Quintana into the rotation indefinitely -- was not a factor in their aggressiveness Monday in pursuing left-handers. Quintana always was viewed as a starter more than a part of the left-handed solution in the bullpen, Hoyer said.
In fact, Chafin, 30, was on the Cubs' radar for a possible trade even before a sprained finger landed him on the IL almost two weeks ago.
"He's got good stuff, and his track record over the last four or five years is outstanding," Hoyer said. "We just kind of stayed with it once he was hurt, and found out that he'd be back this year."
Chafin, who has a 3.46 ERA in 225 appearances over the past three seasons, goes on the Cubs IL with the move but is close to returning, Hoyer said. The Cubs required cash in the deal because of the injury, Hoyer said.
Chafin's splits are similar against righties and lefties, but Osich, 31, is significantly better in his career against lefties (.211, .665 OPS) than righties (.292, .892).
"He's thrown well," Hoyer said of Osich. "He's had a couple bad outings, but his cutter's been really effective this year with lefties, and he's certainly a guy who's transformed himself over the last few years."
Maybin, 33, is a strong career defender in center field, who has played mostly right field this year.
Osich and Martinez are under club control beyond this season, an added consideration in targeting them, Hoyer said.
The Cubs, who entered the day with a 3 1/2-game lead over the second-place Cardinals in the NL Central, were one of only two teams in the division to add at the deadline. The Reds traded for Arizona pitcher Archie Bradley and outfielder Brian Goodwin from the Angels.
If anything, the brisk activity across MLB at the deadline -- which included Cleveland trading Mike Clevinger to San Diego -- was at least a little surprising, given the short season, the risk that the COVID-19 pandemic might yet end the season before the playoffs and the steep economic losses industry-wide related to the pandemic.
The Cubs entered the process already restricted from adding "significant" salary to the books in any trades, although the final result of the deals was a small increase in the 2020 payroll.
The small sample sizes for evaluating anything that has happened on the field so far this year also added a sizable wrinkle to the process.
“Something we thought about a lot is how much weight do you put on what’s happened so far, given the fact that we’re not making trades after four months like we usually are,” Hoyer said. “We’re making trades after 34 games, and you’ve got to think about those small samples, watch a lot of video and try to put everyone’s numbers in context.”
To make enough room on the 40-man roster, the Cubs designated infielder Hernan Perez and outfielder Ian Miller for assignment.
One more corresponding roster move will be necessary by the time all the new players are added.
And expect the Cubs to reduce their pitching staff to 14 on the active 28-man roster when Bryant and Souza return rather than move out any other hitters.