Chicago Cubs 2012: Did the Cubs Homer or Strike out with Deadline-Day Deals?
It’s difficult to say whether or not the trades the Cubs made before the July 31 deadline were pass or fail. With that being said, it may be difficult but it is not impossible.
Each trade made comes with its own merits as well as deficiencies. Some trades might prove to work out in Chicago’s favor, and some may have Epstein and Hoyer wiping egg off of their faces.
To calculate whether the Cubbies hit a home run with their trades or struck out looking, each deadline deal must be analyzed.
Geovany Soto to the Texas Rangers
Of the three deadline-day trades the Cubs made, this one was the hardest to figure out. Soto is still young enough to help the club move towards the future, and cheap enough to not have any consequential impact on the payroll.
But I digress.
At the conclusion of the 2008 season, Geo’s official rookie year, he was named the National League Rookie of the Year after achieving a .285 average with 23 HR, 86 RBI, and an OPS of .868
However, after his coming out party that was 2008, Soto failed to meet expectations or match his numbers in BA, HR, or RBI in subsequent seasons, and only once surpassing his 2008 OPS.
His defense is one area where he can outclass most other catchers. He is not in the defensive class of Yadier Molina, but nevertheless solid behind the plate.
Regardless, with the fair play of Steve Clevenger, and the Cubs wanting to give prospect Welington Castillo more ML action, it seemed time to deal Soto away before he digressed into another Koyie Hill.
But then again, a change of scenery may do him some good—especially if that scenery includes two consecutive A.L. pennants.
In return for Geo, the Cubs received minor league pitcher, Jacob Brigham.
Twenty-four year old RHP Jacob Brigham—a Double-A Frisco pitcher whom averages…well…average numbers. Baseball Prospect Nation breaks it down fairly well:
Brigham has some limited upside and could fill in at the back of the rotation for the Cubs. He has run his fastball up to 95 mph since getting back to full strength after Tommy John surgery, and he typically sits in the 90-92 range. He lacks command and can battle his control at times, something he will have to improve to be anything more than an up-and-down back end starter. His slider is a solid-average pitch that can miss the occasional bat and his change-up is well-below average.
That all being said, rather quoted, a 2010 report on Scout.com—which you need to be a subscriber to read—ranked Brigham as one of the more talented pitching prospects in the Rangers’ farm system; which was concurred by BBTIA.com’s ranking him No.14 in their “Highest Ceilings” report.
Essentially the Cubs received a pitcher who once was on a path to the majors only to be derailed by Tommy John surgery which caused him to miss the 2008 season.
It is difficult to say how this trade will turn out for the Cubs. So this trade is a fly-ball to right in Wrigley Field, on a day when the winds are swirling off of the lake.
We just don’t know where the ball will go.
Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson to the Atlanta Braves
Let me begin with this: I hate to see Reed Johnson go. He is the kind of ballplayer I love to watch.
His tenacity gives him an air of style played long ago. There are not a lot of players that could be transplanted from today’s game to another era of baseball, but Reed is one of those guys. He’s all hustle and is willing to do whatever is asked of him from his club.
Maholm, on the other hand, being traded brings feelings of indifference. While he has earned the “W” in his last five starts, and the team has come out ahead in his last seven, this year Maholm has been the epitome of streaky.
This season, Maholm lost his first two decisions, then won four, then lost four, and now has won five.
On both of these players the Cubs were able to strike while the iron was hot—unlike the Dempster trade; but more specifically regarding Maholm. If you fancy yourself an aficionado of “What Comes Next” logic puzzles, then you would agree they were able to trade Maholm before he could begin his next losing streak.
And in return for these two standouts—but let’s be honest, on this year’s Cubs, it doesn’t take a lot to be considered a “standout” —the Cubbies received pitchers Arodys Vizcaino and Jaye Chapman from Atl-Atl.
The diamond in this deal is being shipped up north. Although he underwent Tommy John surgery this past May—the second of three thus far received prospects to have done so—Vizcaino’s future looks so bright he might as well be an exploding ball of hydrogen and helium.
Despite his small sample size, Vizcaino was ranked the Atlanta Braves’ No. 2 prospect and the MLB’s No. 40 overall prospect by Baseball America after the 2011 season; and No. 62 by Baseball Prospectus—above Dellin Betances (63), Javier Baez (66), Nick Castellanos (71), and Anthony Rizzo (75).
According to Baseball Prospect Nation, ScoutingBook.com, and MLB Prospect Watch he has the heat and a curve, along with a developing slider to become a number two or three starter. But if the slider fails to materialize, he could become a dominant relief pitcher which would allow his fastball, already at 95-97 mph, to bump up a tad.
I almost forgot about Jaye Chapman. He’s in the deal too. Now back to Vizcaino.
Arodys is the star of the deal, and has all the ingredients needed to make it to the majors. While it is a risk trading for a pitcher who has had two elbow injuries—one in 2010 two years prior to Tommy John surgery—the rewards the Cubs could reap with Vizcaino greatly outweighs the risk.
This trade is akin to waving Tony Campana around third when the center fielder has the ball: It would usually be a risky move, but with that kind of player he has the tools to negate the risk.
Ryan Dempster to the Texas Rangers
Let’s be honest: The Cubs shot themselves in the foot when they let everybody and their mothers know they were going to trade Ryan Dempster. In doing so, they lost all trade leverage and put the ball in somebody else’s court.
Every other team knew they did not need to offer an initial deal securing package to acquire Dempster because they knew he was going to be dealt. For the Cubs, there was no turning back. And it seems every team knew that except for the Cubs.
Which leads us to the Atlanta Braves trade conundrum. By not informing Ryan Dempster the club was in serious talks with the Braves about sending the veteran pitcher down to Atlanta, they SNAFU’d a potential trade.
If they would have shown Dempster the respect a 10-5 player deserves, what they could have received in return for Dempster would have put the stamp on the new administration’s first season running the Cubs.
Instead, what they did by not keeping Dempster abreast of the trade talks by letting him first hear about being traded the same time the rest of us did, was bush league and disrespectful.
But did this cost the Cubs?
Instead of receiving highly regarded prospect Randall Delgado from the Atlanta Braves due to their own incompetence, and not realizing the Dodgers knew what every baseball observer knew—that they would have to trade Dempster before the July 31 deadline—the Cubs instead were forced to deal him to the Texas Rangers for minor leaguers Christian Villanueva and Kyle Hendricks.
Christian Villanueva is a third baseman roughly the size of Tony Campana, with his speed to boot. Add in a little power and defense, and you got a decent left-side prospect.
He is not in the list of top 100 prospects on ESPN.com, MiLB.com, and Scout.com, or with The Sporting News and Baseball Prospectus. But he does crack the century mark on Baseball America’s list at No. 100
However, Villanueva could be considered a sleeper in the deal. Baseball Prospect Nation scouts him to become an average hitter with some pop. But defense as his most outstanding tool. If he can bulk up a little and hit for average, his defense at the hot corner could push him up the Cubs’ minor league ranks and propel him to the ML roster—especially on the same side of the diamond as the error-prone, attention-losing Starlin Castro.
But the gem of this deal could turn out to be RHP, Kyle Hendricks. He’s not a pitcher who is going to wow you with a hard-throwing style, and he’s not likely to light up a radar gun.
His fastball sits at the Greg Maddux range, and like Mad-Dog he comes with a complete array of pitches which he able to control.
(I am in no way, shape, or form intimating his skills mirror that of Maddux; just a comparison.)
He has a four- and two-seamer, a changeup, curve, and slider. But it is his developing “out pitch,” the cutter, that can give hitters the most fits.
"I just started throwing a cutter and it’s been a big part of the repertoire lately,” Hendricks said. “If I fall behind in the count or something, I use it as a contact pitch to get out of the count and go to the next hitter."
In 2011, his first season in the minors after being drafted by the Texas Rangers in the eighth round of the 2011 MLB draft out of Dartmouth—he was originally plucked in the thirty-ninth round of the 2008 draft out of high school by the Anaheim Angels—he put some very impressive numbers.
In 21 appearances and 35.2 innings, including one start, Hendricks posted a 2-2 record with a 2.02 ERA, .841 WHIP, and 38 Ks to 6 BBs.
Although Hendricks struggled in his one outing with Double-A Frisco in 2011, it is what he has done thus far at Single-A Myrtle Beach in 2012 that had made him appealing to the Cubs.
Never mind his record of 5-8, he still maintains a low ERA at 2.82 and his WHIP is up considerably to 1.056. He has 112 strikeouts and 15 free-passes in 130.2 innings. He averages 1.06 BB+H\inning which would currently place him at ninth in the league, and a K\BB ratio of 7.47 that would place him head and shoulders above any other pitcher in the MLB.
It is a receiving a pitcher like this that can compensate for the previous debacles Epstein and Hoyer made in trying to trade away Dempster.
If Hendricks blossoms in to the pitcher the organization believes he can be, as all Cubs fans hope he does, not only will we forget about the Dempster trade fiasco, but some time down the road we can all look back on this trade and realize, for once, we were not on the “business end” of a bad deal.
To use Tony Campana once more in an analogy, this deal is like a hit to the first base side, careening off the wall with error-prone fielder chasing the ball: You do not know if it will be an inside the park HR, but you know it’s a possibility.
Was It a Home Run or Strike Out?
Given the evidence laid out, did the Cubs get to take a leisurely 360-foot trot around Wrigley or the Epstein and Hoyer force us to take three big whiffs of the high stinky cheese?
Well, the club received two quality pitching prospects, granted one will not have recovered from TJ surgery until next year, another pitcher that was once on the considered one of the Rangers organization’s top pitching prospects—one who has also undergone TJ surgery.
For what the club traded away and got in return, of the choices to label the trades in their totality as a Home Run or Strike Out, I would have to lean toward the former.
If Vizcaino and Hendricks can develop in to the types of pitchers their pedigrees make us believe they can be, then by all intents and purposes the Cubs, this time, have knocked one out of the park.