While Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer was in the middle of the phone calls and negotiations, Monday felt like a normal MLB trade deadline in a lot of ways.
After the Cubs made their final trade, acquiring outfielder Cameron Maybin from the Tigers in exchange for infield prospect Zack Short just before the deadline, he could reflect on the differences.
“In the end,” Hoyer said, “with the Padres notwithstanding, I think that there probably wasn't quite as much aggressiveness.”
That went for the Cubs (20-14) as well. The roots of a more cautious approach could be traced back to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Cubs were busy at the deadline, trading for two left-handed relivers, a veteran outfielder and a weapon against left-handed pitching. But those moves were more about supplementing the team they already had, rather than bringing in a difference-maker.
"We've done pretty big trades at the deadline most years,” Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said earlier this month. “But the smaller moves where you get incrementally better in a couple different areas, especially to address certain needs, can make a big difference as well."
That’s exactly what the Cubs did. Hoyer gave credit to the Ricketts family, which owns the club, for being willing to take on some additional salary. But the Cubs went into the deadline knowing they weren’t going to take on “considerable money,” as Hoyer put it.
The Cubs’ approach – shifting supplemental pieces – was the norm for around the league. The outlier was the Padres, the most aggressive buyers of the deadline whose crowning achievement Monday was winning the Mike Clevinger sweepstakes.
It’s no secret that the pandemic took a financial toll on Major League Baseball. Tighter purse strings were expected even for large-market teams like the Cubs.
The two areas the Cubs focused on were left-handed relievers and hitters who fared well against left-handed pitching.
“We tried to be as targeted as we could in trying to address things that we haven't done particularly well,” Hoyer said. “And I think we did that.”
The fact that the front office felt the need to address the Cubs’ .208 batting average 34 games into the season was a product of the pandemic.
“If we had six months to play,” Hoyer said, “maybe we would have felt like, ‘OK, that's going to even out. Some of these players we have that have killed lefties in the past are going to start doing it.’”
But not this season.
“We don't necessarily have time for those things even out,” Hoyer said. “And we just haven’t hit lefties.”
The Cubs acquired José Martínez from the Rays on Sunday, for a player to be named later or cash consideration. Martínez, who gives the Cubs a strong designated hitter option against left-handers, has a career .554 slugging percentage against southpaws.
To add to the bullpen, the Cubs added left-handed pitchers Andrew Chafin and Josh Osich.
“We really believe in this group,” Hoyer said, “and given the sacrifices they've made, and given how well they've come together, it felt like the right thing to do to try to try to address some deficiencies that our group had.”
The Cubs might not have made a major acquisition, but they were still preparing for a playoff push.