After the Trade Deadline passes, we’re sometimes fortunate enough to get a line about how and why things went down like they did. For example, why Jim Hendry did nothing to sell at the 2011 deadline (he’d been told he was fired 10 days earlier, but was staying on for stewarding purposes, and didn’t want to do anything franchise-altering). Or why Ryan Dempster rejected a trade to the Braves (there were, in fact, very few places he wanted to accept a trade – and thankfully, he rejected the trade to the Braves and accepted a trade to the Rangers that netted Kyle Hendricks).
This year’s Trade Deadline, as far as the Cubs were concerned, passed in such a way that getting a post-mortem isn’t all that necessary. We know they wanted a long-term, controlled starting pitcher, and they got Jose Quintana. We know they wanted to bolster the back of their bullpen, and they got Justin Wilson. We know they wanted to get another catcher, and they got Alex Avila. There are only so many mysteries to unravel when a team has clear needs, and addresses them well.
But, ah ha! There is a story left untold!
Ken Rosenthal unpacks a lot of what happened, and didn’t happen, at the deadline, and therein, we get a glimpse of the Cubs’ pursuits. And it’s fascinating.
Writing about the Orioles’ and Astros’ lack of movement, Rosenthal reports that, yes, the Cubs were very much in on Zach Britton. What happened, according to Rosenthal, is that the Cubs were weary of taking those negotiations to the final day with the Orioles, fearing that the Orioles would “go dark” on deadline day, hampering the Cubs’ efforts to get Britton or any upper tier back-up plan. Sure enough, that’s what happened to the Astros (and Dodgers) on deadline day, which made it impossible to get a deal done for Britton.
The Cubs, by contrast, were simultaneously negotiating with the Tigers on Justin Wilson, whom they viewed as an equal trade target (when you consider everything), and set a Sunday night cutoff (the night before the Trade Deadline) on the Orioles. Baltimore refused, and so the Cubs moved quickly to pull the trigger on Wilson.
I cannot tell you how impressed I am by this. Given the concerns I kept sharing about Britton’s arm injury and escalating arbitration salary next year, there would have been so much risk associated with trading significant prospects for him – enough that I, too, would have viewed Wilson and Britton as having near equal value. More upside with Britton? Absolutely. But far, far more risk. And it’s not as if Wilson isn’t an excellent lefty reliever in his own right, with closer upside, and who will also be under control for 2018 at about 1/3 the salary.
Moreover, to draw that firm line at that time with the Orioles and not risk a deal falling through on the final day with no possible back-up plan in place (or perhaps a back-up plan trade partner who now has you over a barrel)? Really, really well done by the Cubs’ front office.
The whole tale underscores just how interconnected so many pursuits out there are, and how nimble – and pre-planning – a front office has to be in order to be successful. And even then, best laid plans are sometimes necessarily subject to the whimsy of other front offices and owners.