Unfortunately for the Chicago Cubs, baseball players are human beings.

That’s why, when you try to trade them, some tricky things can happen. So it was with now-former Chicago Cub starter Ryan Dempster. Yesterday, at the non-waiver trade deadline (with five minutes to spare), the Chicago Cubs sent Dempster to the Rangers for third base prospect Christian Villanueva, and pitching prospect Kyle Hendricks.

But that might not be the Dempster trade that you remember 10 years from now. You might, instead, remember the Dempster trade that didn’t happen.

That trade, of course, would have netted the Cubs 22-year-old pitching prospect Randall Delgado, a pitcher who might not have single-handedly taken the Cubs to the promised land, as hyperbolists like to joke. But he would have been a heck of an incredible return for two months of Ryan Dempster.

Circumstances dictated that the deal was not to be, and, unfortunately, also dictated that a comparable deal wasn’t to be found. Considering that no other team needed the Cubs to include cash in the deal quite like the Braves did, it’s understandable that the Cubs were never going to match, overall, the return they would have gotten from the Braves. Ultimately, they probably didn’t come all that close.

But that doesn’t mean they didn’t make a good deal, particularly when you consider that the failed Atlanta deal forced all sides to show their hands. When the dust settled, teams knew Dempster didn’t really want to go anywhere but L.A., knew that the Cubs very much wanted to move Dempster, and knew that Delgado-for-Dempster wasn’t just acceptable, it was dream-worthy.

From there, picking up a kid who was a fringe top 100 prospect going into the season (Villanueva) and an arm who was a top 30 prospect in a very good system (Hendricks) was a pretty good deal. If you’re like me, you would have been very happy with that return if you’d never heard the name Delgado mentioned days before.

Still, the trade wasn’t without its downsides.

The Cubs had hoped to deal Dempster far in advance of the deadline, if for no other reason than they wanted to create space between the time they were shopping Dempster and Garza. Why? It’s not an issue of effort or manpower. The Cubs can handle both things at once. Instead, it’s a simple issue of economics – perhaps the only one I still understand from a college class I only barely passed: if you have two commodities you’d like to sell, and the buying base for those commodities is the same, all things equal, you’d rather sell the two commodities at different times so that you can preserve scarcity. Sell ’em both at once, and the price will necessarily go down, because the market has more options. The two products will, in essence, be in competition with each other.

And that’s exactly what happened. We learned yesterday that the Cubs were deep in discussions with the Rangers, among other teams, about Matt Garza. But the Rangers explicitly chose Dempster because they preferred (1) his health situation, and (2) that he came with a lower price tag.

Had Dempster been traded a week or two ago to a team other than the Rangers, what happens yesterday with Garza? We’ll never know, but it’s always going to be fair to wonder.

Unfortunately, I can’t hang that on the Cubs’ front office. They got the deal they wanted for Dempster, and they got it more than a week ago. Why that deal fell through and who is to blame has been discussed ad nauseum since that time. I have learned enough since then, including some things I cannot share, to know that I’ll probably never pin the blame on anyone for how this played out. Just as I believe the Cubs’ front office did the best they could on the information they had, I believe the Braves did the best they could to wait on Dempster and then to force the issue, and I believe Dempster did the best he could to balance the Cubs’ interests and his own. Not only did Dempster have a right to ask the Cubs to keep trying to work something out with the Dodgers, he had good reasons to ask.

Theo Epstein discussed the failed trade with the media a few hours ago, and he confirmed – at least, in terms of what he was willing to say publicly – that events played out as we’ve suspected. The Braves were a team Dempster said he would consider, and the Cubs consummated that deal after alerting Dempster that it could be coming soon, and after the Braves game them a window to get Delgado. Dempster felt he needed a few additional days to think things over (and, let’s be honest, to hope the Dodgers came around), but the Braves imposed a deadline. Dempster wanted to wait until the last minute, on the hopes that the Cubs could work something out with the Dodgers. When it became clear – at the last minute – that it wasn’t going to be possible with L.A., Dempster relented, and took the deal with the Rangers.

It will be easy, in the years to come, to vilify Dempster by pointing to the vetoed Braves deal, and the ultimate Rangers deal, as evidence that Dempster screwed the Cubs. He didn’t go to L.A., after all, so why didn’t he just go to Atlanta? Why did he say back in June that he wanted to do right by the Cubs? Why did he tell the Cubs he would consider going to Atlanta? After they informed him that things were getting hot and heavy with the Braves, why didn’t he tell them he had serious reservations? Maybe, if he had a do-over, he would have done things differently. But I’m not sure I can, with good conscience, say that Dempster is the villain here. At worst, he had an ill-timed change of heart. At best, the Cubs were a bit too aggressive, and Dempster still tried to do right by the organization. The truth usually lies somewhere in the middle.

Unfortunately, when it comes to assigning “blame” for how things played out, I can lay it only at the feet of bad luck. The timing of things – the deadline, the other teams involved, personal issues involved, the Cubs’ desires involved, the reporting involved – conspired to form a perfectly bad sequence of events, and the Cubs paid the price in a reduced return on Ryan Dempster. It was no one’s fault, and the Cubs’ front office did the best they could to salvage a quality return for Dempster on July 31.

And let’s be clear on one thing: even if the Cubs had completed the Dempster-for-Delgado swap, we don’t know how the rest of the deadline plays out. Maybe the Cubs still can’t move Garza for a whopper (he is injured, after all). Maybe no other team wants Maholm nearly as much as the Braves did, and the Cubs can’t move him, either. Or maybe they move him for substantially less than Arodys Vizcaino, who, when healthy, was preferred by many prospect gurus to Delgado.

All we know for certain is that Ryan Dempster allowed himself to be traded, and so ended his days in Chicago.

Maybe you didn’t think he was funny. Maybe you hated his Harry Caray impression (which was actually an impression of Will Farrell doing a Harry Caray impression). Maybe you didn’t like his zingers in the media. But at least the guy was interesting.

Dempster gave his fair share of stock answers, and did a lot of the standard things you expect of a big league player, but he also occasionally surprised. As much as baseball is about the performance of the players on the field, personally, I like to see a little bit of who they are off the field. Dempster showed us a little bit of that, and I thank him.

On the field, it’s impossible not to recognize his accomplishments with the Cubs. Dempster was the most consistently good starting pitcher the Cubs have had since 2008. Before that, he was a decent reliever.

Remember when the Cubs converted him into a closer? Remember how that seemed like a risky idea? Remember how he dominated as a closer? Well, for that first year, anyway.

Remember when the Cubs converted him back into a starter? Remember how that seemed like an absurdly risky idea? Remember how he dominated as a starter?

There are good things to remember about Dempster’s time with the Cubs. Will the failed Braves trade, and resulting Rangers trade, always be a part of the story? Yes. Will there always be a little sting, and a little frustration when calling to memory the days leading up to his trade? Yes. But I’m going to do my best to remember the good, as well.

But it wouldn’t hurt if Randall Delgado fails to make it back to the big leagues.

  • Dustin S

    In the end I am not too upset about the way things worked out. Dempster did buy a little goodwill back in my book by accepting the Texas trade, which he didn’t have to do. Also, it’s unfortunate that he’s going through personal problems now which probably didn’t help matters.

    I have to put the blame for the Dempster debacle on him. Most of what he said through it all was ridiculous. When people are being less than honest and get called out on it, they have a choice to either take responsibility, or they can become defensive and exacerbate things with more dishonesty which just snowballs. That’s what I think happened here. But…he did do a lot for the Cubs and Chicago in his time here, and the Cubs did pretty well with the return from Texas. He also (somewhat) apologized for how he handled it all. So while I think the mess primarily was his fault, it’s time to move on and I will think of him as a good Cub who just dropped the ball on handling this. Hopefully the trade works out well for both Texas and the Cubs, and Delgado’s name isn’t one we have to look at as one that got away in a few years.

  • Jon

    After reading some of these comments, I am a little ashamed of some of you do called Cub fans! Fact number one, Ryan Dempster is a human being! I know it seems like he is a prima Donna but come on, the guy is going through a divorce. If I was him I would have done the same thing. Ted Lily is his best friend. He needs the friendship now more than ever! Baseball is a game! Major League baseball is a business. When it comes down to it, Demp earned the 10 & 5 rights and who are we to challenge this. It’s pretty sad when we are no better than St Louis as we attack a player who meant a lot to the Cub community(I won’t enen dignify the dog on Brett). just remember this, if we keep treating players this way it’s going to get harder and harder to add good free agents.

    • Flashfire

      No one is complaining that he used 10-5 rights. People are complaining that he told Theo — literally days before — that he would go to Atlanta and then reneged on that at the worst possible time and hurt the Cubs badly in the process. No one had this anger at Aramis last year because he said all along he was not waiving his 10-5 rights. People accepted it and moved on.

      Regarding attracting free agents: even if I agreed with your analysis, Philadelphia doesn’t seem to have any problems attracting top talent.

    • kubphan82

      Cub fans are certainly passionate about their team. No doubt. Just like in retail/restaurant the few complainers are going to make their voice heard first and foremost. Most people are indifferent; therefore, do not say anything. A person who applauds something usually has to have their socks blown off. This is not a concept new to fandom, of the Cubs or any other team. Players grow up with doubters, haters, and plenty of scrutiny. Players don’t stay away from Philly or New York because of tough criticism and they won’t stay away from Wrigley because of posters on blogs.

    • BeyondFukudome

      “just remember this, if we keep treating players this way it’s going to get harder and harder to add good free agents.”

      This is one of the dumbest arguments I keep hearing repeated. Every team has a segment of its fan base that would get on the case of a player under circumstances similar to Dempster’s. You are free to dislike that segment of the fan population if you wish, but to suggest that they have any significant impact on free agent signings is just silly.

  • kubphan82

    The problem with Dempster is the amount of misinformation and the publicized inner workings of the deal before he could finalize his end in Chicago, with an attempt to go where he truly wanted to pitch. As an aging pitcher, wouldn’t you want to pitch in LAD? That’s a pretty sweet home park for a pitcher. Wouldn’t you want to pitch with your longtime friend? I don’t condemn Dempster for taking his time with a very personal issue in a very public forum. I don’t celebrate his action for taking his time on his rights… It’s more like a “meh” than anything, which had me peeved at the possibility. I’m not even mad at the Dodgers for not caving… That was a heck of a game of chicken between both teams. I APPLAUD Dempster in the end for sitting in the offices on a couch and seeing how hard the Cubs were trying to work a deal, to be a part of that had to really have reality sink in as to what the FO meant to building this organization, he had to see that LAD didn’t REALLY want him, and that he had to in the end accept something in the works.

    Maholm talks were engaged because of the Dempster deal, and a pretty solid deal at that. Dempster still went to the Rangers for an alright deal as well. The Cubs still came out as winners because they gathered prospects who can help the Cubs in the near future and still have Garza to deal or extend. They also received something for Soto in what looked like a dumping.

    The Cubs just got a lot younger, their future considerably brighter and Dempster is a big reason why.

  • Ben

    for better or for worse,I know that Christian Villanueva will now always be compared to Delgado…..I hope the kid pans out!

  • cubsin

    The reports out of Atlanta that he told at least two Braves players he was coming there suggests to me a bad case of cold feet at the last minute, not a well-reasoned plan to get the Dodgers to up the ante after news of the Delgado rumors broke.

    The Cubs might easily have fared worse if the Delgado deal had actually gone through. But I’ll never trust anything Dempster says again.

  • PRcajun

    meh…it’s time to turn the page. I’m still rooting for the Cubs of today and tomorrow. No reason to dwell on this any more.

    • stillmisskennyhubbs

      I’m with you, PRcajun. Yesterday’s gone; it’s a new ball game today.

  • Jack Weiland

    Hear, hear!

    Well said Brett.

  • Jack Weiland

    Remember the time Bill Murray autographed a ball for Dempster this year on opening day and he used it by accident? Lolz.

  • Steve

    Exactly….lets move on. I could have been a #2-3 stater if I had only grown about 4-5 more inches and added 10-15 more mph on my fastball.
    Demp was / is a good guy. Twitter and blogs….can ruin a person in seconds.

  • TheJDawg

    I look at it this way. I was disappointed in him when that trade debacle went down, but the guy has loved Chicago and Chicago has loved him for a few years. I enjoyed his time here in the Windy City and wish him nothing but the best. If he comes back next year great, if not, whatever.

    We ended up getting a good deal from Atlanta as it was for a pitcher who was a rental for the Cubs. (If the player comes back healthy from TJS).

    Sometimes things happen for a reason. Maybe that trade not going through will turn out to be a blessing in disguise in 2 to 3 years. We shall see..

  • KC

    Wouldn’t surprise me if Demp ended up back in Chicago after this season…after all the “fans”/media calm down.

  • Itzscott

    White Sox Nation….

    Thank you so kindly for proving MY point!

    Typical of a true Sox fan….
    You just couldn’t help yourself, could you?

  • thejackal

    i believe we are gonna have a great team in the next 2-3 years demp if ud like 2 be a broadcastor or grounds crewman im sure theo n company will gladly look over your application lol just kiddding demp i still love ya hows the sayn go u can choose ur friends nt ur family g nite god bless g luck today cubbies beat them damn dodgers

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