On June 7th, 2019, the Chicago Cubs signed Craig Kimbrel to a three-year, $43M (plus an option), which was ultimately the beginning of some relatively significant mid-season roster reconstruction.
Indeed, there’s been many changes (mostly via trade) since then, including a flurry of moves at the deadline yesterday, so I thought it might be worth briefly breaking down each one, to make sure we’re all up-to-date on the what moves have happened and why.
NOTE: The Cubs lost several prospects in these deals, all of which will be discussed briefly below. But Bryan is planning a broader piece exploring the losses of those guys, in particular, later today. So keep a head’s up for that.
Signed: Closer Craig Kimbrel
There’s really no secret here, so I won’t spend a lot of time on it. The Cubs needed a closer badly and were fortunate enough to find themselves in a position to sign one out of free agency … in June (3 years/$43M plus a club option). Kimbrel has saved 8 games for the Cubs so far and is going to be their closer for the next few years at least.
Team Control: The Cubs have Kimbrel for all of 2019, 2020, and 2021 with a club option for $16M in 2022, that can be guaranteed if certain thresholds are met.
Traded For: Catcher Martin Maldonado
On July 15th, the Cubs traded the man who got the final out of the 2016 World Series, Mike Montgomery, to the Kansas City Royals for veteran back-up catcher Martin Maldonado. At the time of the trade, Willson Contreras was hurt and Maldonado stepped in to support Victor Caratini until Contreras’ eventual return. Although we thought the Cubs might consider carrying three catchers – as they have in the past – it quickly became clear that Maldonado wasn’t long for the roster. He’s no longer on the team, but we’ll get to that deal in a second.
Team Control: Maldonado will be a free agent at the end of the season, but he is no longer on the Cubs (see below), so the team control was a couple weeks!
Traded For: LHP Derek Holland
On July 26th, the Chicago Cubs completed the long-anticipated trade for a left-handed Giants reliever … but it wasn’t the one we were hoping to get. Nonetheless, the Cubs were able to add a lefty who’s been extremely good against fellow lefties for nothing more than cash considerations. Given his splits and the Cubs need for another southpaw (particularly a LOOGY) in the pen, this was a solid, low-risk deal.
Team Control: Holland will be a free agent at the end of the season (rental).
Traded For: RHP David Phelps
The move for Phelps is not unlike the move for Holland. The Cubs had reportedly been in touch with the Blue Jays over some higher-profile relief arms, but ultimately decided to go bargain-bin hunting for more of a value trade. Like Holland, most of Phelps’s value will come from facing batters with the same hand-dominance (righties, in his case), but unlike that other deal, this one cost the Cubs a player: Thomas Hatch. Hatch, 24, was the Cubs first-overall (but third-round) pick back in 2016 and always had some untapped upside, but I won’t ultimately lose much sleep over his change-of-scenery. More on him later from Bryan.
Team Control: Phelps has a club option for 2020, and it’s pretty darn cheap if he doesn’t make many more appearances this year.
Traded For: UTL Tony Kemp
Yesterday, the Cubs traded recently acquired catcher Martin Maldonado for utility man Tony Kemp and, for a while, I was worried that was going to be the only offensive addition made to the team. Fortunately, it was not. Because while Kemp has his perks – he’ll be a plus on defense at all three outfield spots and second base – he’s not much of a hitter or baserunner. What Kemp *does* do very well, though, is make contact. That’s something this Cubs bench desperately needed and something Kemp can easily provide. When there’s a runner on third with fewer than two outs late in a ballgame sometime over the next two months, you’ll be happy he’s available off the bench.
Team Control: Kemp is not even arbitration-eligible until 2021 and won’t be a free agent until 2024.
Traded For: OF Nicholas Castellanos
The Cubs biggest trade this season was the one for Nick Castellanos. He’d been a rumored target of their’s all month long and even then it took until AFTER the deadline for reports of the deal to trickle out. Talk about bringing it down to the wire. Ultimately, the Cubs gave up two right-handed pitching prospects (2017 first-rounder Alex Lange and 2018 second-rounder Paul Richan), which isn’t nothing, but I think it’ll be worth it. Castellanos was the best bat available at the deadline, and offers elite production against left-handed pitching, which is the Cubs biggest weakness overall this season. He also comes with plenty of general offensive upside, but he will be a negative, defensively, in the outfield.
Team Control: Castellanos will be a free agent at the end of the year (rental).
Traded For: LHP Brad Wieck
As the post-deadline insanity consumed us, the Cubs completed another unexpected trade, sending embattled, but talented reliever Carl Edwards Jr. (plus international bonus money) to the Padres for a little change-of-scenery. And although you might’ve expected them not to get much for the streaky string-bean slinger, they actually did get “a guy,” Brad Wieck, worth getting. Wieck, 27, had an excellent, albeit brief big league debut last season (7.0 IP, 1.29 ERA, 2.16 FIP), but struggled mightily this year. He’s definitely a flawed pitcher, but comes with absolutely MASSIVE strikeout numbers and more than acceptable walk rates. If the Cubs can help him put the pieces together in Iowa, he can be very useful as soon as this September.
Team Control: Wieck is not arbitration-eligible until 2022 and won’t be a free agent until 2025.
Traded For: International Bonus Money
The last and most under-the-radar move the Cubs made yesterday, was sending outfielder Jimmy Herron to the Rockies for international bonus money. Perhaps that’s the money they ultimately sent the Padres in the Edwards/Wieck deal, or perhaps they got a little more for themselves to use.
So at the end of the day, this Cubs team improve a LOT over the last month. In total, they added a legit closer (Kimbrel), a lefty for the pen (Holland), a righty for the pen (Phelps), contact bat for the bench (Kemp), an impact bat against lefties (Castellanos), and a lottery ticket reliever (Wieck). When you also consider promotions for Ian Happ and Rowan Wick plus the eventual return of Ben Zobrist, it’s easy to see the effort this front office is committing to winning this season.
And, hey, they did all of this without giving up Nico Hoerner, Miguel Amaya, Brailyn Marquez, Brennen Davis, Adbert Alzolay, or Cole Roederer. It was a good deadline.