Last year I wrote my “not with a bang but a whimper” trade deadline piece to review the Cubs’ (lack of) deals and Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer pulled off a last minute move for Nick Castellanos that had me literally doing a “just kidding, be right back with Castellanos info” tweet about 90 seconds after it posted. This year, I am older and wiser, so I gave myself a cushion between the deadline and this story posting.
That was smart of past me because the Cubs had a lot of last minute deals in their back pocket, specifically adding lefty relievers Andrew Chafin and Josh Osich to join fellow southpaw Kyle Ryan in the bullpen for the well-known players to be named later. Chafin has been on the injured list since August 19 with a sprained finger. He could return to action soon, although Cubs MLB.com beat writer Jordan Bastian indicated he might be on the IL for a couple more weeks. However, the big move announced mere seconds after the deadline was the Cubs acquiring outfielder Cameron Maybin from the Tigers for shortstop Zack Short.
For what it’s worth, the Cubs are older and wiser too and while Maybin, José Martínez, Chafin and Osich aren’t exactly Castellanos and Craig Kimbrel, they do help the Cubs upgrade some key positions. Let’s start with the pitchers.
Prior to today the Cubs had one (yes, that’s all) lefty in the bullpen aside from José Quintana, who should move to the rotation with Chatwood leaving his last start with elbow pain. It will be interesting to see how Chafin and Osich are deployed given the three batter minimum. Chafin has only thrown 6⅔ innings in 2020, but over his career there hasn’t been a huge difference in his success throwing to right-handed and left-handed batters: they are hitting .246 and .233 against him over a fairly even split of innings. Osich, on the other hand, has had a lot more success during his career against lefties who are batting .211 against him as opposed to righties who have hit .292 against him.
While it didn’t feel like this team needed a big impact bat, they found themselves in a similar position to last season when they could stand to shore up their offense against left-handed pitching. Martínez does this with his career .319/.392/.554 slash line against lefties. He’s also proven to be a potent bat off the bench slashing .323/.394/.495 in 104 plate appearances as a pinch hitter.
Maybin has fairly pronounced splits that look good against left-handed pitching for 2020, but those numbers look like outliers relative to the rest of his career. In 2020 he’s slashing .444/.500/.667 against lefties as opposed to .188/.257/.344 against righties, however, over his career those numbers are .250/.313/.356 and .259/.329/.385, respectively. It is worth remembering that short streaks may not be statistically relevant normally, but they can have a big impact with only 26 games and the postseason to go.
As with last season the real move the Cubs need in 2020 is their core to heat up and play to their potential. All-Stars Willson Contreras and Javier Báez have both been struggling at the plate. Either one of them hitting their stride in the final 26 games of the season would be like adding an All Star at their position.
Additionally, former MVP Kris Bryant has been on the Injured List since August 19, he doesn’t even have enough plate appearances to qualify for the Fangraphs leader board. Bryant had been showing signs that he was making the turn offensively right before injuring his wrist and ring finger making a diving catch in left field. Finally, Steven Souza Jr. had been one of the Cubs hottest hitters before hitting the Injured List with a hamstring injury on the 18th.
The Cubs managed to shore up their offense against left-handed pitching while giving manager David Ross some much needed lefty relief options out of the pen. Martínez is an upgrade at the designated hitter position and offers another solid pinch hitting option alongside utility man David Bote. Maybin offers an offensive upgrade over Albert Almora Jr., who could still see some playing time as a pinch runner and late defensive replacement. But as with last year the biggest question mark the Cubs have is can their core play up to their potential down the stretch one more time? If they can it could lead to another deep postseason run for the team that won it all in 2016.