If we all ourselves a moment to step back from the tragic ending to the regular season, the quick exit from the postseason, and the rough start to the offseason, we might remember that these Chicago Cubs are pretty darn good.
You know the story, but because it never gets old … they went to the NLCS in 2015, won their division and the World Series in 2016, won their division and reached the NLCS in 2017, and made it to the playoffs in 2018. Along the way, they’ve had a Rookie of the Year (Kris Bryant, 2015), Manager of the Year (Joe Maddon, 2015), a Cy Young Award winner (Jake Arrieta, 2015), an MVP winner (Kris Bryant, 2016), two Cy Young Runners Up (Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks, 2016), an MVP runner up (Javy Baez, 2018) ,and a bunch of Gold Gloves for Jason Heyward (2016, 2017) and Anthony Rizzo (2016, 2018).
That’s a lot of success, and I’m sure I’m missing some stuff. But to what do the Cubs owe the credit? Well, there was obviously the shrewd drafting early on in the rebuild, and the right free agent signings before 2015 and 2016, but many of the Cubs trades have been quite successful, as well.
I think the biggest moves were probably trading for Anthony Rizzo (Padres), Jake Arrieta (Orioles), Pedro Strop (Orioles), Miguel Montero (Diamondbacks), and Dexter Fowler (Astros), but the Cubs made a ton of moves with the Rangers over the years (including once this offseason already and twice during the 2018 regular season) that often go overlooked. In fact, any time a rumor pops up with the Rangers, we tend to believe it, because GM Jon Daniels and President Theo Epstein work very well together.
In fact, they’ve made 12 deals together since Daniels took control of the Rangers back in 2005, 8 of which have come since Epstein joined the Cubs. And because they have a prolifically productive relationship, it’s worth examining more closely, especially now that the clubs have also swapped front office members and coaches. And that’s just what Gerry Fraley did at Dallas News: Jon Daniels has made 12 trades with Theo Epstein. How many has the Rangers GM actually won?
Fraley lists every deal made between the two front officemen, adds a little context for both sides, and then uses WAR as an imperfect way to measure who “won” the deal (obviously, that works a little better for the older deals than the fresher ones, and WAR is not a perfect stat, but it’s just a thought experiment, so chill out).
If you head over to his article, you can check out the details and winners of each deal, but we’re going to skip ahead to discussing the Cubs-related bits here. Just note that the Rangers and Red Sox, under Epstein’s guidance, got together on four deals (2006, 2007, 2008, and 2010). Epstein won the first, lost the second, tied on the third, and won the fourth. Basically, he’s 2-1-1 with Daniels before coming to Wrigley Field.
Deal 1 – July 31, 2012
Rangers Get: Geovany Soto
Cubs Get: Jake Brigham
Deal 2 – July 31, 2012
Rangers Get: Ryan Dempster
Cubs Get: Kyle Hendricks and Christian Villanueva
Deal 3 – November 20, 2012
Rangers Get: Jake Brigham
Cubs Get: Barret Loux
The Cubs and Rangers made two deals in one day during Epstein’s first season in Chicago, and while the first was mostly a non-factor (as you can see, the Cubs sent Brigham back before the end of the year thanks to injury concerns), the second was an absolute bombshell that completely changed the landscape of the Chicago Cubs organization. The Cubs netted 16.3 WAR on the deal (and much more in the postseason thanks to Hendricks), and Villanueva some nice time with the Padres before now heading overseas to get paid.
Deal 4 – July 22, 2013
Rangers Get: Matt Garza
Cubs Get: Carl Edwards, Justin Grimm, Neil Ramirez, Mike Olt
This is another relatively major deal. And although Mike Olt, Neil Ramirez, and Justin Grimm have all gone their separate ways, Carl Edwards Jr. has, at times, been a lights out reliever for the Cubs. Grimm certainly had his moments of importance and effectiveness, too. Garza had a 4.38 ERA in 13 starts for the Rangers. This was a big Cubs win.
Deal 5 – November 20, 2015
Rangers Get: Frandy De La Rosa
Cubs Get: Spencer Patton
Deal 6 – July 19, 2018
Rangers Get: Tyler Thomas
Cubs Get: Jesse Chavez
Deal 7 – July 31, 2018
Rangers Get: Eddie Butler, Rollie Lacy, Alexander Ovalles
Cubs Get: Cole Hamels
Deal 8 – November 20th, 2015
Rangers Get: Drew Smyly
Cubs Get: PTBNL
The last three deals have all impacted the Cubs in big ways. The trades for Jesse Chavez and Cole Hamels were critical moves, given the losses of Brandon Morrow, Pedro Strop, Yu Darvish, and, basically, Tyler Chatwood. Hamels and Chavez both thrived in Chicago and were among the best pitchers in baseball during the second half of the year.
Cole Hamels: 2.99 ERA (23rd in MLB)
Jesse Chavez: 1.15 ERA (6th in MLB)
As for the Drew Smyly deal, that was a bit of clever accounting. If you recall, the Rangers would’ve been on the hook for the $6M buyout on Hamels’ $20M option if the Cubs didn’t pick it up. So, Epstein phoned his old friend, Daniels, and politely suggested the Rangers would prefer to pay $7M and have Drew Smyly next year than pay $6M and have nobody. And because the Cubs saved $7M in the process, they were able to pick up the $20M Hamels option with some savings.
So, basically, the Cubs have gotten Kyle Hendricks, Carl Edwards, Justin Grimm, 2018 Jesse Chavez, and 2018 Cole Hamels in deals with the Rangers without giving up much of anything over the years. In addition, the Epstein-Daniels dealings have directly led (in more ways than one) to Hamels returning in 2019. And again … what have the Cubs *really* given up? Garza and Dempster in lost seasons? The upside of Drew Smyly and Eddie Butler (who has himself since become a free agent again)?
I don’t know why Daniels is so comfortable trading with Epstein, because even excluding his time in Boston, the Cubs President seems to come out on top routinely. So … here’s to more deals …?
(I kid, because of course more deals that are merely win-win would be just fine, too.)