Epstein, Cubs Emerge As Sole Deadline Winners


June 15, 2012; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein before the game against the Boston Red Sox at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a rarity, if not baseball heresy, to declare the Chicago Cubs “winners” at anything. They are the perennial losers, laughing stocks, punching bags of baseball, possibly created for the sole purpose of making Royals and Met fans feel good about themselves. Yet with the trade deadline behind us and no major August trades looming, the Cubs stand as the lone victorious club in what one major league executive referred to as, “the deadest deadline ever.”

While other GMs and officials balked at the shallow list of available players (Alex Rios was the best hitter on the market) and tradeable prospects (in exchange for Rios, the Sox got a career .260 hitter in the minors), Cubs GM Theo Epstein brought his trademark aggression to the marketplace. Hired to rebuild a flagging ballclub, Epstein viewed this summer as his window of opportunity to do just that.

All told, the former Red Sox general manager managed to turn a collection of spare parts – a pair of pitchers destined for free agency (Matt Garza and Scott Feldman), an aging and overpaid outfielder (Alfonso Soriano), a .172 hitting outfielder (Scott Hairston), and a backup catcher (Steve Clevenger) – into a wealth of high upside prospects.

Mar 3, 2013; Surprise, AZ, USA; Texas Rangers first baseman Mike Olt (9) throws out Seattle Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan (not pictured) at first during the fourth inning at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The Garza deal was a steal for the Cubs; 3B Mike Olt may be struggling to hit .200 in the minors this season but was BA’s #22 pre-season prospect and has 35 homer potential at a premium defensive position. CJ Edwards, a 48thround pick, has destroyed the lower minors, pitching to a 1.83 ERA and an 11.8 k/9 between low and high A, a product of a mid 90’s fastball and plus curve. Justin Grimm, despite his 6.37 ERA in the majors this year, has four quality pitches and strong command, the repertoire of a good back end starter. RHP Neil Ramirez, the likely PTBL in this deal, has a shot at being a Number 2 starter, throwing a plus changeup and curve to complement his 95 MPH heater.

While Corey Black, the return on the Soriano deal, has a 100 MPH and a possible future as one of the games best relievers, and Ivan Pineyro from the Hairston deal has a shot to be a solid #3 starter, the more intriguing July deal for the Cubs was the Scott Feldman trade. In exchange for the #4 starter, the Orioles sent starter Jake Arrieta and reliever Pedro Strop to the Cubs. Strop pitched to a 7.25 ERA for Balitmore, but his fastball-changeup combo has already proved fruitful for the Cubs as Pedro has posted a 2.41 ERA since joining Chicago. Considering the volatile nature of relievers, Strop could return to his 2012 form and be a steal down the road. The same can be said of Jake Arrietta, a young pitcher who has failed to produce in the majors despite glowing scouting reports. His fastball reaches 97 with incredible life and his curve is indisputably one of the best in the game. Considering his 0.69 ERA since the trade, a change of scenery may have been all he needed to turn his career around.

Aug 16, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta (49) delivers a pitch against the St. Louis Cardinals during the first inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

Included in that deal was an unusual component – international-signing money. With the new CBA capping each team’s international expenditures and imposing steep penalties and taxes for breaking that cap, this deal gave Epstein more money to spend on amateurs prospects from Latin America and Asia. A good thing, too, cause Epstein has gone completely over the top in foreign investments this summer.

Seeing this summer’s crop of talent as far superior to next year, the Cubs GM has aggressively pursued the top amateurs, signing Eloy Jimenez, Gleyber Torres, Jen-Ho Tseng, Jefferson Mejia, Erling Moreno and John Matos for a grand total of almost 8 million dollars. While this is still breaking the Cub’s salary cap, triggering a 100% tax on spending and limiting them spending a maximum of $500,000 per player next year, it didn’t break the cap enough to instigate the top penalties. If Epstein hadn’t acquired the signing money from Baltimore, than the Cubs would have exceeded their cap by over 15%, prohibiting them from signing any player next season for over $250,000. There is a big difference between a 250,000 dollar player and 500,000 dollar player, meaning that the single Scott Feldman trade netted Chicago more than just a couple prospects, but a handful of quality ones.

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