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MLB trade deadline: Grading all the Cubs’ deadline moves

The Cubs made four trades before the door slammed shut on trading in 2019. How did they do?

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Detroit Tigers Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The Cubs made a flurry of acquisitions over the past couple of days, hoping to take control of the National League Central. But were the trades favorable for the Cubs?

Chicago Cubs acquire OF Nicholas Castellanos from the Detroit Tigers in exchange for RHP Alex Lange and RHP Paul Richan

Nicholas Castellanos will be a fine addition for this team — he owns a 106 wRC+ and an fWAR of 1.0 this year, so on paper, he’ll be an upgrade over both Kyle Schwarber and Albert Almora. But how much will this move improve the Cubs? Despite Castellanos’ above-average offensive numbers, he is a major liability in the outfield, and he’s a free agent after the 2019 season.

In Alex Lange, the Cubs are selling low on one of their first round draft picks in the 2017 MLB Draft. Lange struggled mightily with Myrtle Beach this year, recording a 1-9 record with a 7.36 ERA. A change of scenery proved to be for the better, as Lange pitched to a more respectable ERA of 3.92 in seven starts in Double-A. Richan, drafted in the second round of the 2018 MLB Draft, was holding his own as a 22-year-old pitching in Advanced-A with a 3.97 ERA in 17 starts. I would’ve liked to have seen the Cubs hold on to Lange and move him to the bullpen where his fastball and power curve would play up, but his and Richan’s inclusion in this trade highlights the inability of the Cubs to draft and develop top tier arms.

Castellanos will undoubtedly lend an offensive spark to a struggling Cubs outfield, but the price seems too high for a guy who will only play for two months in a Cubs uniform.

Grade: C-

Chicago Cubs acquire IF/OF Tony Kemp from the Houston Astros in exchange for C Martin Maldonado

This was my favorite move made by the Cubs. The Cubs acquired Martin Maldonado from the Kansas City Royals in exchange for Mike Montgomery merely two weeks ago, so in a sense, Montgomery fetched the Cubs an insurance policy at catcher while Willson Contreras was on the Injured List, and then moved on to Tony Kemp.

While Kemp probably won’t offer much in the way of offense, he’s the perfect 25th man on the roster for this team. Kemp plays a variety of positions, including second base and all three outfield positions. His peripherals also suggest that he’s been a bit unlucky this year, as evident by his .233 BABIP, though he has posted a wRC+ of 94 this year. Kemp also comes with five more years of control, although, he doesn’t have any more minor league options. Kemp is also coming off of a 2018 season that saw him post a 110 wRC+ in nearly 300 plate appearances for the Astros last year, so there is some offensive potential to be tapped into.

The Cubs don’t need three catchers on the roster, especially when Taylor Davis will be recalled to the club on September 1. Kemp is a more versatile, better offensive version of Daniel Descalso. To get him for a backup catcher is a steal.

Grade: A

Chicago Cubs acquire RHP David Phelps from the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for RHP Thomas Hatch

This was another solid move by the Cubs, but I wish this was a supplementary trade to a more established reliever. Phelps appeared in 17 games for the Blue Jays, owning a 3.63 ERA while striking out nearly 10 batters per nine innings. There is some cause for concern, however, as Phelps’ 4.78 FIP suggests that he’s due for some regression. Phelps comes with an incentive-laden team option for next year, but barring any unforeseen excessive usage, Phelps’ option should be no more than $5 million in 2020, a reasonable amount for a team that has more than $40 million coming off the books this offseason.

Hatch, the first pick of the Cubs in the 2016 draft, had been mediocre during his three years in the Cubs’ minor league system, recording a 4.10 ERA in 79 starts across three seasons. Hatch projects as a fringe starter in the majors, but he’ll more than likely end up as a swingman in a team’s bullpen due to below average stuff, provided he makes the jump to a big league roster.

Grade: B+

Chicago Cubs trade RHP Carl Edwards Jr. to the San Diego Padres for LHP Brad Wieck

This is more of a change of scenery move if nothing else. While it’s sad to see The Stringbean Slinger depart, he’s a shell of his former dominant self. After his windup debacle at the beginning of the season, Edwards struggled to find any success with the Cubs in 2019, recording an ERA of 5.87 in 20 appearances. It stings to surrender a former staple in the Cubs bullpen, especially since the club is selling low on him. But durability concerns, in addition to shaky command, meant Edwards was expendable.

Wieck is an interesting return for the Cubs, as the 27-year-old 6’9” southpaw comes with six years of control. Wieck hasn’t had much success this year with the Padres or at the Triple-A level, but he’s posted gaudy strikeout numbers since being drafted in 2014, recording a 11.7 K/9 across six seasons. Wieck could be a dominant lefty specialist with the Cubs, but this move was more about future seasons than this one, despite an urgent need for a shutdown lefty in the bullpen.

Grade: C

The Cubs made a handful of moves this past week, but I’m not sure any of them were what was required to make a run in October. Castellanos will be a welcomed addition to an underperforming Cubs outfield, but his limitations on defense, coupled with the fact that he’s only a slightly above-average offensive player, don’t instill much confidence in him. The Kemp trade was a good one, but again, he’s a bench piece that’s out of options. Phelps and Wieck give the bullpen some additional depth, but neither are relievers that will shore up a bullpen that’s teetering.

But then again, maybe it’s a good thing that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer didn’t go all in on this season. The Dodgers will be a buzzsaw for anyone in the playoffs, and they held onto key prospects in Nico Hoerner and Brailyn Marquez in what’s an otherwise lackluster farm system. The drastic change that Epstein hinted at never happened, but I would expect a more active offseason this coming winter.


What grade would you give the Cubs’ front office for this trade deadline?

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