Yesterday I was fairly snarky about the Cubs lack of movement at the trade deadline and may have hit publish about seven minutes too soon. So I spent the night doing a deep dive on the Cubs acquisition of Nicholas Castellanos, and to a lesser extent their “these guys really need a change of scenery” contracts deal with the Padres to swap Carl Edwards Jr. for Brad Wieck to see if it really moved the needle on my earlier assessment. Honestly, while I might back off my characterization of the 2019 Cubs as content to close the championship door with a whimper, I think the general take away in yesterday’s piece remains true, specifically:
No white knight is riding in to save this team. This is a collection of champion players that Epstein and Jed Hoyer assembled on purpose because they believe this team can win when it matters. It is up to them to get the job done. If they don’t, the championship window will close. Not with a bang, but with a whimper.
That said, obviously both of these moves change the degree to which the Cubs are prepared to dance with the team that brought them, so let’s look at them both in more detail.
The Castellanos acquisition in particular helps the Cubs in two ways. He’s an offense-first option at third base or in the outfield for a team that has struggled with offensive consistency all year. Second, the Cubs have struggled more against lefthanded pitchers than righthanded pitchers in 2019. Castellanos has good handedness splits and is much better at facing lefthanded pitchers in 2019.
Below you can see the Cubs splits by handedness and how Castellanos compares:
Cubs and Castellanos Offensive Splits
That is a potentially large boost in run production against left-handed pitchers. Jed Hoyer referred to the Cubs newest acquisition as follows in Forbes:
“He’s a professional hitter,’’ General Manager Jed Hoyer said on a conference call with reporters. “He kills lefties, which is an area where we’ve struggled. We think he’s going to give a professional at-bat against both lefties and righties. In the past he’s hit in some really good lineups and helped him. We felt like that was the kind of hitter we had to target at this deadline.’’
I also took a look at Statcast data to get a better idea of who Castellanos is as a hitter. His 2018 numbers were actually almost all in the top of the league offensively, but there has been a bit of a drop off in 2019. He’s still a decidedly above-average bat. You can take a closer look at his expected stats below:
While I’ve seen some people discuss Castellanos as a leadoff option, that is probably better as a platoon situation against lefties than anything else. His OBP is .328 overall but jumps to .415 against lefties.
It can’t possibly be worse than what they’ve currently been experimenting with at the top of the lineup.
Wieck is a strikeout pitcher who works with a fastball that sits at about 94 mph, a slider that sits at about 84 mph, and a curve ball that sits at about 74 mph. In a very brief stint with the Padres in 2018 he demonstrated electric stuff with a K/9 of 12.86 across 7.0 innings pitched. In 2019 that K/9 remained impressive at 11.31 across 24⅔ innings, but a HR rate of 2.55 contributed to an ERA of 6.57. Yikes.
If Wieck can control the long ball he could be an electric bullpen piece. Honestly, it sounds a lot like the guy he was traded for in Carl Edwards Jr. Hopefully a change of scenery is good for them both.
Theo and Jed are clearly not content to let this team completely fly on their own, and they do have help in the offing in the form of the potential return of Ben Zobrist and/or Brandon Morrow, but these aren’t blockbuster deals. They aren’t even deals with the same upside that the additions of Daniel Murphy and Cole Hamels provided for the Cubs in 2018. These deals still qualify as tinkering to me. If this team is going to make a run in October it’s going to require the core living up to their potential.