The Cubs didn't make any trades on deadline day this year. This surprised some of you, but not me. The Cubs did quite well with the four deals they made earlier in July, shipping away two starting pitchers, a major-league reliever and a starting outfielder, and perhaps felt they'd done enough. Despite those deals, the major-league team had its first winning month of the 2013 season.
The haul from the trades of Matt Garza, Scott Feldman, Carlos Marmol and Alfonso Soriano: one placeholding MLB reliever who, if good enough the rest of the year, could be retained (Matt Guerrier), one MLB reliever who is a closer candidate in 2014 (Pedro Strop), one possible rotation piece who's already thrown one good big-league game for the Cubs (Jake Arrieta), one possible future MLB third baseman (Mike Olt), and three pitching prospects (Justin Grimm, C.J. Edwards and Corey Black), one of whom (Grimm) is a rotation candidate for 2014.
That's a really good month of trading, in my view. It gives the system depth, and also helped make the major-league team better right away. Theo and Jed were correct, I think, in not making deadline-day deals just to make them; they had players of value to other teams, but they weren't just going to give them away.
That's why I was surprised to read this from Paul Sullivan in the Tribune:
The Cubs are unlikely to dip into the free agent waters for any significant upgrades this winter. The attendance drop of around 4,250 fans per home game means the Cubs will slash payroll, despite added revenue from a new national TV deal, new signage and a jumbo-sized video board at Wrigley Field. The 2014 payroll currently projects to less than $75 million, the lowest it has been since 2002.
Let's look at that, shall we? Yes, attendance is down; I write about that all the time. Yet, Sullivan correctly says that revenue will be added (the new national TV deal alone should give the Cubs approximately $25 million more per year; the signage and video board might not be ready until 2015). So why the low payroll estimate?
Do I think the Cubs should break the bank for a big-time free agent? No, I do not. Let me make that clear right now. There really aren't any around, anyway, and last year's big offseason free-agent splash, the Angels' Josh Hamilton, is looking like a big-time bust.
Sullivan correctly says that many of the players you'll see in 2014 were on the field Wednesday night, including David DeJesus, whose option is likely to be picked up, said GM Jed Hoyer:
The Cubs also figure to pick up David DeJesus' $6.5 million option. "There are a ton of positives, and we would love to have him in a Cubs uniform going forward," Hoyer said.
That article also says, regarding starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija:
Before Wednesday night's 6-1 rain-delayed victory over the Brewers, general manager Jed Hoyer said the Cubs still would like to sign Samardzija to a long-term deal. "We love having him on the team," Hoyer said. "He brings the right swagger and the right competitiveness to the club. His stuff is obviously good. He'll keep getting better. He deserves a ton of credit and (pitching coach Chris Bosio) deserves a ton of credit for what they have accomplished. "I expect him to keep getting better and we want to acquire a lot more pitchers like him. That's our goal. It's hard to rank it on a priority list, but it's very high."
Then why does that article's headline say:
Samardzija could go on trade block
Do headline writers even read the articles? It seems to me that both Samardzija and Travis Wood could be signed to long-term deals over the winter. Starting pitching has been a strength of this team and can continue to be so going forward. Clearly, the Cubs will need to look for bullpen upgrades, and although an impact bat might not be available on the open market, who's to say that Anthony Rizzo -- who turns 24 this month -- might not step up his game? Or Olt might win the third-base job and put up the numbers everyone thought he might when his name was mentioned in Cubs-related trade rumors a year ago. We could see Olt as soon as this September. Junior Lake clearly has the potential to stick in the big leagues.
There's clearly payroll room to sign Samardzija and Wood to long-term deals -- I don't agree with Sullivan that payroll will be as low as $75 million -- and that should leave room to make a couple of Scott Feldman-type signings, mid-range free agents that might be able to help in the bullpen, rotation or even somewhere in the offense.
Do I expect the Cubs to contend in 2014? Probably not. But they're fairly close to being a .500 team this year; in that sense you could compare this Cubs season and next to the Cleveland Indians of 1992 and 1993. Those editions of the Tribe were coming off a 105-loss year in 1991, and began to bring in young talent, signing them to long-term, below-market deals as the Cubs have done with Rizzo and Starlin Castro, and might do with Samardzija and Wood. When those Indians added Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez to their base of Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga and Charles Nagy, they then also brought in some key free-agent parts and went on an eight-year run where they were in the playoffs six times and in two World Series (and would almost certainly have been in the 1994 postseason if there had been one). We'd take that, I think.
This is the kind of thing that Theo and Jed are trying to build, and you can see them getting close. There's no reason they can't continue to build on what's happened in 2013 next year, and then, presumably, all the so-called "waves and waves" of talent begin to arrive in 2015, as it did for Cleveland in 1994.