The Cubs collapsed at the end of the season in 2004, blowing a wild card spot that was theirs for the taking.
One of the reasons they were in contention for that spot was a big trade they made at the deadline.
Note: There were some players acquired this year in what were described as “conditional deals.” None of them had any impact on the Cubs so I’m leaving those trades out.
April 29: Acquired Jon Connolly and Eric Eckenstahler from the Tigers for Felix Sanchez
Sanchez had been a pretty good Cubs prospect but pitched in only three games for the team in 2003. Memorably, in his MLB debut he came into a game the Cubs were trailing the Cardinals 2-0 with two on and two out and a couple of lefthanded hitters coming up. He walked Fernando Vina and then served up a grand slam to J.D. Drew. The Cubs won the game anyway, 8-7. That was the game where Dusty Baker and Tony La Russa got into a shouting match at each other from their dugouts. Fun times.
Neither Connolly nor Eckenstahler ever played for the Cubs, and Sanchez never pitched in the majors again after 2003, so this was a nothing deal for both teams.
May 31: Acquired Travis Dawkins from the Royals for Damian Jackson
Jackson was another Baker favorite who did nothing for the Cubs, going 1-for-15 with six strikeouts in six games. He played a bit better for the Padres in 2005, but did nothing much in Kansas City.
Dawkins, better known as “Gookie,” was once a Top 100 prospect who played in the Futures Game in 2000, but he played in only 55 MLB games, none for the Cubs. He was still poking around in the minors as recently as 2011.
July 2: Acquired Andy Shipman from the Red Sox for Jimmy Anderson
I remember being optimistic when the Cubs signed Anderson, though he had posted an ERA north of 5 in four years with the Pirates. He was just 28 when the Cubs got him, and I thought they might turn him around. Nope — just seven games, all in relief, a 4.66 ERA. He had 0 bWAR in five games in Boston. Shipman never played in the majors.
July 31: Acquired Nomar Garciaparra and Matt Murton from the Red Sox as part of a four-team trade. The Cubs sent Alex Gonzalez and Brendan Harris to the Twins and Justin Jones to the Expos. The Twins sent Doug Mientkiewicz to the Red Sox and the Expos sent Orlando Cabrera to the Red Sox.
The Red Sox appeared gung-ho to deal Garciaparra and even though Gonzalez was a decent shortstop, Nomar was seen as a considerable upgrade despite missing a lot of the early part of the year with an Achilles injury. And for a while, this worked. Nomar hit .297/.364/.455 with four home runs in 43 games with the Cubs in 2004, decent numbers, though injuries had taken away some of the spectacular play he’d had in Boston from 1997-2003, when he was a Rookie of the Year, a five-time All-Star and six times a Top 10 finisher in MVP voting. The Cubs missing the postseason in 2004 wasn’t his fault. Meanwhile, Cabrera and Mientkiewicz got rings in Boston — the latter catching the final out. Brendan Harris was a MLB regular for a few years. Justin Jones, the Cubs’ second-round pick in 2002, was seen as a good prospect, but he hadn’t pitched above A ball at the time. He never played in the majors. (Fun fact: Jones is a year younger than Justin Verlander.)
Nomar was a free agent after the season, but couldn’t get a long-term deal so he signed what we’d now call a “pillow contract” with the Cubs, hoping to rebuild his value. He was 30 and though not quite what he was earlier, at least a solid everyday shortstop. He hit like crazy in spring training 2005, batting .433 (26-for-60) with seven doubles and six home runs. But then Nomar started the regular season in an awful slump. In his first 14 games he hit just .157/.228/.176 and on April 20 in St. Louis, he took an awkward swing and fell to the ground with a groin injury.
That ruined his season and helped ruin the Cubs’ season. He missed three months and when he returned August 5, he hit very well in 48 games: .318/.347/.531 (57-for-179) with 11 doubles and nine home runs. That extrapolates to a 30-homer season.
Alas, it didn’t happen. He left as a free agent at the end of the year, played three years with the Dodgers and one with the A’s and hung ‘em up. He now helps broadcast Dodgers games.
That was Hall of Fame talent, ruined by injuries. It was a good deal to make at the time by Jim Hendry, it just didn’t work out.
August 31: Acquired Ben Grieve from the Brewers for Andy Pratt
Grieve, son of former MLB player (and executive) Tom Grieve, was a first-round pick (second overall) of the A’s in 1994. And for a while, he looked great! He was AL Rookie of the Year in 1998, had a couple more good years in Oakland, but after he was traded to Tampa Bay in 2001 things started to go south. By the time he got to the Cubs he was a reclamation project, and it didn’t work. He hit .250/.316/.563 for the Cubs in ‘04, but that’s only 4-for-16 with two doubles, a home run and six strikeouts.
Here’s that home run, his only one as a Cub and the last of 118 he hit in the major leagues.
The Cubs let him walk as a free agent after the year. He signed with the Pirates, who let him go after Spring Training in ‘05, and the Cubs brought him back for a 23-game cameo, mostly as a pinch-hitter, in which he went 5-for-20 with six walks.
This article has a bit of an explanation of what went wrong for Grieve.
Andy Pratt had pitched in four games for the Cubs in ‘04 with a 21.60 ERA. He never played in the majors after that. Grieve had 0.1 bWAR for the Cubs. So do they win this one?
I’ll go with a B- for these deals. The Nomar deal should have been great. It wasn’t Jim Hendry’s fault that it wasn’t. He went for it and injuries ruined it.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This series will go on hiatus over Christmas week and will resume on Tuesday, January 2.
Give the Cubs a grade for their 2004 trades.