When Theo Epstein took over as the Cubs’ President of Baseball Operations in October 2011, the player who is currently the team’s second-longest tenured member was part of the Padres organization. The longest tenured was part of the Reds’ organization.
The 2016 team’s Opening Day starter was a former prospect scratching the surface of his talent, but ultimately delivering disappointing numbers in Baltimore. The Cubs’ two most experienced pitchers were having their names etched in Boston lore, at that particular time, for all the wrong reasons.
Nothing exemplifies how far the Cubs have come in their rebuild like tracking down where these guys were when this process began in Fall 2011. And with Starlin Castro now playing second base for the Yankees, there are no players left from the active roster Epstein inherited that fall.
So, where did these guys come from anyway?
Miguel Montero, catcher — Montero was wrapping up his first All-Star season with the NL West champion Diamondbacks at age 27. The 2011 campaign was a breakout for Montero, who slashed .282/.351/.469/.820 with a 121 OPS+. Montero handled quite a pitching staff that season, headlined by 21-game winner Ian Kennedy. Acquired: Trade with Diamondbacks (Dec. 2014).
Anthony Rizzo, first base — In an odd twist of fate, Rizzo finished his first (and only) season with the Padres’ big league club with a seventh-inning strikeout against reliever Andrew Cashner in a 9-2 Padres win on Sept. 28, 2011. Exactly 100 days later, Rizzo was dealt from the Padres to the Cubs in exchange for Cashner. Prior to struggling with a .141/.281/.242/.523 slash line in his 49-game big league cameo, Rizzo was Baseball Prospectus’ 69th rated prospect leading up to the 2011 season and MLB’s No. 75 prospect according to Baseball America. Acquired: Trade with Padres (Jan. 2012).
Ben Zobrist, second base — At age 30, Zobrist had his best season by bWAR standards. Joe Maddon’s super-utility player posted a career-best 8.7 bWAR splitting time between second base and right field in Tampa Bay. Zobrist slashed .269/.353/.469/.822 with a 131 OPS+. Acquired: Signed as free agent (Dec. 2015).
Kris Bryant, third base — Slashed .365/.482/.599 as a 19-year-old freshman at the University of San Diego in 2011. Bryant was two years from being drafted second overall in the 2013 MLB Draft. As a freshman, Bryant shared the West Coast Conference’s Freshman of the Year and Player of the Year awards with pitcher Marco Gonzales (who is pitching in the Cardinals organization). Acquired: Drafted by Cubs (1st round, 2013).
Addison Russell, shortstop — When Epstein joined the Cubs in October 2011, Russell was a 17-year-old high school student who was one month away from signing a National Letter of Intent to play at Auburn, and eight months away from being the 11th pick in the MLB Draft. Acquired: Trade with Athletics (July 2014).
Kyle Schwarber, left field/catcher — An 18-year-old who graduated from Middletown (Ohio) High School (Class of 2011), where he led his conference with a .474 average, .643 on-base percentage as a senior. But by the time Epstein took over in Chicago, Schwarber was in his first semester at Indiana University. Acquired: Drafted by Cubs (1st round, 2014).
Dexter Fowler, center field — Fowler put together a respectable season for the Rockies, accumulating 2.5 bWAR as he slashed .266/.363/.432/.796 in 125 games in his age 25 season with the Rockies. Prior to his 2015 season with the Cubs, 2011 represented a career-high in plate appearances made by Fowler with 563. Acquired: Trade with Astros (Jan. 2015), re-signed as free agent (Feb. 2016).
Jason Heyward, right field/center field — After finishing runner-up in the 2010 NL Rookie of the Year race, Heyward took a bit of a step back in an injury plagued 2011 (shoulder), as he slashed .227/.319/.389/.708 in 122 games with the Braves. That was a rough season for Heyward and the Braves as they watched the Cardinals erase a 10-1/2 game deficit to win the Wild Card — and eventually, the World Series. Acquired: Signed as free agent (Dec. 2015).
Javier Baez, infield (DL) — The last first-round pick of Jim Hendry’s time as Cubs GM played in only five games (18 PA) splitting time in Boise and the Arizona Fall League. Acquired: Drafted by Cubs (1st round, 2011).
Tommy La Stella, infield — Eighth-round pick by the Braves in 2011 who played 63 games (270 PA) with Rome (A) and slashed .328/.401/.543/.944 with 26 walks and only 28 strikeouts. Acquired: Trade with Braves (Nov. 2014).
Jorge Soler, outfield — A 19-year-old who defected from Cuba in 2011, established residency in Haiti and eventually signed with the Cubs at age 20 in June 2012. Acquired: Signed as international free agent (June 2012).
Matt Szczur, outfield — Productive season (.293/.335/.423/.758 in 480 PA) splitting time at Peoria (A) and Daytona (A+) in his first full professional season. Acquired: Drafted by Cubs (5th round, 2010)
David Ross, catcher — Long before he was Grandpa Rossy (and even before he was Jon Lester’s personal catcher), Ross (34 at the time) was teammates with Heyward on the 2011 Braves. He made 171 plate appearances in 52 games, slashing .263/.333/.428/.761 with a very solid 107 OPS+. Acquired: Signed as free agent (Dec. 2014)
Jake Arrieta — The idea of acquiring Arrieta might have been laughable on the day Epstein took control of the Cubs’ baseball operations. Arrieta had just come off a season in which he was the starter for the Orioles’ home opener and was twice listed as a top-100 prospect by Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America. Arrieta finished 2011 with a 10-8 record, 5.05 ERA (5.34 FIP, 83 ERA+) in 22 starts. In short, he was far from the pitcher who will start Monday’s opener. Acquired: Trade with Baltimore (July 2013)
Jon Lester — The collapse of the 2011 Red Sox helped pave the way for Epstein leaving Fenway Park for Wrigley Field. And yet, Lester performed admirably for the 90-win Red Sox as he went 15-9 with a 3.47 ERA (3.83 FIP, 124 ERA+) in 191.2 innings. Lester, who played a part in the Red Sox Chicken And Beer controversy, was an All-Star who made 31 starts and posted a 4.4 bWAR. Acquired: Signed as free agent (Dec. 2014)
John Lackey — For as well as Lester pitched for the 2011 Red Sox, Lackey found himself on the other side of the spectrum. He allowed a league-leading 114 earned runs, posted a career-worst 67 ERA+ to go along with a 6.47 ERA (4.71 FIP). Lackey, who missed time with an elbow strain in his pitching arm in May, would go on and miss the 2012 campaign following Tommy John Surgery. Lackey was reportedly also was part of the infamous Chicken And Beer fiasco in Boston. Acquired: Signed as free agent (Dec. 2015)
Jason Hammel — The 2011 season wasn’t all too kind to Hammel. Then again, Coors Field isn’t kind to many (if any) pitchers. Hammel finished his age 28 season as a member of the Rockies, where he went 7-13 with a 4.76 ERA (4.83 FIP, 96 ERA+). It turned out to be Hammel’s last year with the Rockies, who traded him to Baltimore, where he would post a 3-WAR season and make two ALDS starts for the Orioles in 2012. Acquired: Signed as free agent (Jan. 2013, and again Nov. 2013)
Kyle Hendricks — Finished 2011 in the Rangers’ organization after being an eighth round pick from Dartmouth. Made 20 relief appearances for Spokane (A-) and a three-inning start for Frisco (AA). Acquired: Trade with Rangers (July 2012).
Hector Rondon — Once a top-10 pitching prospect in the Indians organization, Rondon had Tommy John Surgery in 2010 and pitched a grand total of three innings in 2011. Acquired: Rule 5 Draft (Dec. 2012).
Pedro Strop — Spent time with three teams across two organizations in 2011. He began at Triple-A Round Rock in the Rangers organization, was promoted and spent 11 games with the big league club before being traded to the Orioles to complete a deal the teams had made which sent reliever Mike Gonzalez to Texas. Strop struck out 21 batters in 22.1 innings of work between the two major league teams. Acquired: Trade with Orioles (July 2013).
Travis Wood — Started Game 2 of the Reds’ 2011 season, picking up a win against the Brewers. Also spent time with the Reds’ Triple-A affiliate in Louisville (10 starts, 5.33 ERA in 52.1 innings) and finished that year having made 22 appearances (18 starts) as a Major Leaguer. Acquired: Trade with Reds (Dec. 2011).
Trevor Cahill — An All-Star who finished ninth in the AL Cy Young vote in 2010, Cahill struggled in 2011 with a 12-14 record, 4.16 ERA (4.10 FIP, 96 ERA+) in 34 starts for the Athletics in 2011. Cahill wasn’t long for Oakland as he was traded from Oakland to Arizona in exchange for pitchers Ryan Cook, Jarrod Parker and outfielder Collin Cowgill that December. Acquired: Signed as free agent (Aug. 2015).
Justin Grimm — The 2011 season was Grimm’s first as a professional and he spent it pitching for Hickory (Low-A) and Myrtle Beach (A+) in the Rangers organization where he went 7-3 with a 3.39 ERA in 25 starts (140.2 innings). Acquired: Trade with Rangers (July 2013).
Neil Ramirez — Pitched as a starting pitcher at three minor league levels at age 22 for the 2011 Rangers. Made 25 starts for Myrtle Beach (A+), Frisco (AA) and Round Rock (AAA) who went 5-3 with a 3.12 ERA. Ramirez struck out 119 in 98 innings with a 28.9 percent strikeout rate. Acquired: Trade with Rangers (Aug. 2013).
Clayton Richard — A key component of the Padres’ trade that sent Jake Peavy to the White Sox in 2009, Richard’s 2011 season ended with a DL stint because of a strained left shoulder. He was 5-9 with a 3.88 ERA (4.21 FIP, 92 ERA+) in 18 starts. Acquired: Trade with Pirates (July 2015).
Adam Warren — Made 25 starts going 6-8 with a 3.60 ERA in 152.1 innings as a starting pitcher for the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Acquired: Trade with Yankees (Dec. 2015).
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