So, the first instinct with this one is a little gallows humor. After trading essentially the back four relievers in the span of 48 hours, the Cubs solved the dilemma of who would handle the leverage outs by being nowhere remotely near a lead.
Seriously, though, Tuesday was a puzzling day. I absolutely thought Willson Contreras would be traded along with at least two or three of the relievers. I thought there was some chance some of the other players would go. My estimation is that Willson Contreras was being valued essentially as a DH who could catch in a pinch. The return for a righthanded player without a real position and without off the charts power is just not great.
I’ve been frustrated nearly the whole time Willson has been with the Cubs about the knocks on him as a defensive catcher. I realize that Willson has never put it together the way a Mike Piazza did behind the plate. But I also watched the entire career of Piazza. Willson runs circles around him behind the plate. Piazza didn’t have a whole lot of trouble going into the Hall of Fame. And again, I get it. Piazza was a top tier hitter in MLB through most of his career. Willson falls well short of that. But he is a well above average MLB bat with some decent skills behind the plate.
If Willson wasn’t being valued like the star that he is, I’m glad we kept him. I’m not begging someone to take Contreras off of my hands. That kid has bled for this organization and there is plenty of life left in that body. I’d certainly have loved to see him get a chance at another post season run and perhaps get a chance to shine on the biggest stage. But I’m ecstatic he’s here. You can’t run a team with your heart, but that little run after the break showed that this team isn’t exactly a Triple-A team playing pickup games against a major league team.
So what to take away from this deadline? The Cubs didn’t trade away any of their offensive assets. The team has graded out pretty consistently above average this season. They’ll go into the offseason hoping to build on that and not needing to rebuild. They even picked up a talented offensive player in Zach McKinstry. You can never have too many options at your disposal.
The Cubs did trade four relievers from what was probably the team’s actual strength. While the pitching has lagged the hitting a fair bit, the back of the bullpen has been strikingly effective. As the guy writing about Heroes and Goats and looking with intensity at leverage situations, I just haven’t really had to talk about games that got away late. The only vague exception to that has been extra inning games. But with the new rules, those games are still a little dismissible.
David Robertson, Mychal Givens, Scott Effross and Chris Martin were all traded away. Robertson was a 37-year-old reclamation project. Givens was probably the most projectable of the bunch. Effross was a guy who wasn’t even a lock to make the team out of spring training. Martin was on a one-year deal despite some good results the last few years for the Braves. This is all to say that none of the four of these relievers were a key part of the 2021 Cubs, and that includes both before or after last year’s barrage of trades.
Certainly, there is no shame in having continuity in your bullpen year over year. But the reality is that it varies from year to year. Teams are always going to bringing in 10-15 bodies and hoping to find four or five really good ones and then play health and hot hands to fill out your pen. These trades open up opportunities for Michael Rucker, Erich Uelmen, Brandon Hughes and Anderson Espinoza, among many others, to get a chance to step up and try to compete for next year’s pen.
Rowan Wick has been one of the guys who has been a bit of a fixture in the Cubs pen over recent years. He’ll probably get a chance to close games with the trades made. Ironically, Wick has been one of the least consistent members of the Cubs pen. So longevity doesn’t necessarily give a leg up.
One doesn’t have to do a lot of exaggerating to imagine that one of those pitchers I mentioned will break out in 2023. Will they break out and be involved in the next wave of trades? Maybe. Or maybe the team is competitive in 2023 and that person is getting increasingly high leverage opportunities like Effross did.
Meanwhile, the Cubs acquired that talented batter with positional flexibility and three pitchers who are at least presently starting games. They’ll each get an opportunity first to show that they can advance through the system as starters. If that fails, they too will at some point get looks to be future pieces of the bullpen and the cycle continues. You can never add enough projectable arms.
With that, we turn our attention to Tuesday night’s loss. Let’s try to find some positives coming out of this one.
- Willson Contreras. The man is a consummate professional. After not being dealt, he was in the starting lineup. He had the Cubs only extra base hit. We are back playing division foes and so it is no surprised that Willson was hit by a couple of pitches. It feels like there have been thousands of those over the last handful of years.
- Michael Rucker. It was lopsided by the time he got in there but he faced four batters and retired them all.
- Yan Gomes. Yan is perhaps the player most hurt by the lack of a separate waiver deadline for trades. With Willson not being traded, Yan would surely have value on the secondary market as a capable defensive catcher who can at least handle himself at the plate. He had a pair of singles, the only Cub with multiple hits in this one.
And now we take a look at the Heroes and Goats from Tuesday’s loss.
Game 102, August 2: Cardinals 6, Cubs 0 (41-61)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Willson Contreras (.017). 1-2, 3B, 2HBP
- Hero: Michael Rucker (.010). 1⅓ IP (4 batters)
- Sidekick: Anderson Espinoza (-.005). 2IP (7 batters), H, BB, R, 3K
- Billy Goat: Keegan Thompson (-.208). 4⅔ IP (24 batters), 10H, 2BB, 5R, K (L 8-5)
- Goat: Seiya Suzuki (-.088). 0-4, 2K
- Kid: Zach McKinstry (-.065). 0-3, K
*McKinstry is the 46th different Cub to appear in Heroes and Goats. I think last year’s record of 65 is pretty safe.
WPA Play of the Game: The game was scoreless in the bottom of the third when Paul Goldschmidt faced Keegan Thompson with runners on second and third with one out. Goldschmidt singled, driving in the game’s first two runs. (.125)
*Cubs Play of the Game: With runners at first and third and one out in the second inning, Thompson got Yadier Molina to ground into a double play to escape the inning. (.122)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments below)
Rizzo Award Cumulative Standings: (Top 5/Bottom 5)
The award is named for Anthony Rizzo, who finished first in this category three of the first four years it was in existence and four times overall. He also recorded the highest season total ever at +65.5. The point scale is three points for a Superhero down to negative three points for a Billy Goat.
- David Robertson +22.5
- Nico Hoerner +19.5
- Scott Effross +17
- Christopher Morel +15
- Patrick Wisdom +7.5
- Andrelton Simmons -8
- Daniel Norris -9.5
- Rafael Ortega -11.5
- Yan Gomes -14
- Jason Heyward -15.5
*David Robertson is the second player in as many years to be traded while leading the H&G standings. Kris Bryant was having his finest year by way of H&G in 2021 and was leading at the time of the trade. He was ultimately caught by Patrick Wisdom and surpassed by Frank Schwindel. This year, Robertson heads to the clubhouse with a locked score of 22.5 but three guys within shouting distance.
Up Next: Game two of the midweek series with the Cardinals. Justin Steele (4-7, 3.86) gets the start for the Cubs. Miles Mikolas (8-8, 2.86) marks the second straight night where the Cardinals start someone who has largely dominated the Cubs.