The offseason came and went with big name free agents such as Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson all going somewhere besides Chicago. David DeJesus wasn't exactly what Cubs fans were expecting as Theo Epstein's "big splash."
Epstein came in and made moves that didn't make headlines such as trading for Anthony Rizzo, signing DeJesus and Paul Maholm and trading Sean Marshall.
Rizzo became a star in the minors before breaking into the majors and seemingly never looking back. Marshall was turned into starter Travis Wood, who put together a string of quality starts that gave reason to believe he can contribute in the future. DeJesus is quietly producing as he usually does.
Besides Rizzo, his biggest impact acquisition was...Paul Maholm?
That's right. The lefty turned into the hottest pitcher in baseball in the last month and posted a 3.74 ERA overall.
The immediate reaction of Ryan Dempster rejecting the trade to Atlanta was disappointment. Instead, it's a blessing in disguise.
Epstein and Jed Hoyer got right back up and turned a lesser value in Maholm into a greater return when he was traded for pitcher Arodys Vizcaino.
Vizcaino entered the year as Keith Law's No. 14 overall prospect in baseball and No. 1 in the Braves system. When healthy, he throws 92-96 mph. He features a curveball and changeup as well.
Vizcaino is rated much higher than Randall Delgado, who excited Cubs fans about his rumored arrival for Dempster. Delgado is No. 98 overall according to Law, and the Braves No. 4 overall prospect. Vizcaino immediately becomes an impact arm in the Cubs' farm system, which has been lacking in previous years.
Epstein had this plan all along. Don't think he signed Maholm as a way to make the playoffs this year or next. His favorable contract provided the exact kind of guy that teams aim for at the trade deadline. While Maholm wasn't a hot target in the offseason, teams are always more desperate closer to the deadline when it comes to a guy who can impact a playoff run.
More importantly, he turned a negative into a positive. An uproar was created when Dempster rejected the trade to Atlanta, but Epstein's ability to turn right around and make something happen shows his creativity, and ultimately, why the Cubs handed him a blank check.
Look for more diamond-in-the-rough-type players that Epstein aims for in free agency. DeJesus is another name to consider the same scenario in the winter or next trade deadline.
The big name signings will come. But for now, the foundation has to be built from the ground up. And it's easier to do so with smart, creative rental signings turned into top prospects.
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