The Cubs were still in rebuilding mode in 2013 as they lost 96 games.
But Theo Epstein was busy looking for pieces for a future contender. And he definitely found some.
February 18: Acquired Erick Leal and Jesus Castillo from the Diamondbacks for Tony Campana
Campana was a one-tool player. He was fast. Like, REALLY fast. But he couldn’t hit, had no power and no throwing arm in center field.
Campana gave the D-backs 0.0 bWAR in 2013 and -0.3 in 2014 and batted .215/.269/.256 with 12 stolen bases in 73 games after he left the Cubs, including a few with the Angels. He was still active in the Mexican League as recently as 2021. He was the only Cub to steal 30 or more bases in a season between 2006 (Juan Pierre, 58) and 2023 (Nico Hoerner, 43). He’s also one of eight players in MLB history to steal at least 30 bases in a season while playing fewer than 90 games.
Neither Castillo nor Leal ever played in the major leagues. Leal was still pitching in the Mexican League in 2023.
June 11: Acquired Henry Rodriguez from the Nationals for Ian Dickson
No, not a comeback from the late ‘90s Cubs outfielder. This Henry Rodriguez was a righthanded reliever who could throw hard, but with little control (averaged 6.4 walks per nine innings in his career). He pitched in five games for the Cubs with a 4.50 ERA and -0.1 bWAR and left as a free agent after the season.
Dickson never played in the major leagues.
July 2: Acquired Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop from the Orioles for Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger
This is one of the best trades in Cubs franchise history.
Feldman had been signed by the Cubs as a free agent with the intention of flipping him. And Feldman had a solid 15 starts for the Cubs: 3.46 ERA, 0.9 bWAR, a complete game vs. the Padres in which he threw seven one-hit innings.
Arrieta had been erratic with the Orioles, but Cubs scouts saw something in him that they liked, and saw the same in Strop, who had a 7.25 ERA in 29 relief appearances for Baltimore in ‘13.
So the deal was made. Arrieta was sent to Triple-A Iowa to get him “fixed,” and he made nine late-season starts for the Cubs with a solid 3.25 ERA, providing 0.7 bWAR in a lost season.
Then he hit his stride in 2014. Presaging future years, he nearly threw a perfect game against the Red Sox (losing it in the eighth), then took a no-hitter into the eighth against the Reds before finishing with a one-hit shutout with 13 strikeouts.
It was mid-2015 when Jake hit his stride, and you all know the results. Over his last 20 starts, beginning with a shutout of the Twins, he posted an ERA of 0.86 and a WHIP of 0.701, and famously hit as many home runs (two) as he allowed during that time. That included a no-hitter against the Dodgers, and he finished with 22 wins, a 1.77 ERA, four complete games, three shutouts, 8.3 bWAR and the Cy Young Award. It’s arguably the most dominant pitching season in Cubs history.
Jake began 2016 by no-hitting the Reds in his fifth start of the year, and after 15 starts he had a 1.74 ERA and 107 strikeouts in 98 innings, with just three home runs allowed.
So that’s a 35-start stretch in which he had a 1.21 ERA, 254 strikeouts in 245 innings with just five home runs allowed. I don’t think any of us will ever see anything like it.
For the rest of 2016, Jake wasn’t quite as good, though he did have some solid starts in the 2016 postseason and also helped the Cubs stave off elimination, by one game, with a gutty Game 4 start in the 2017 NLCS.
After three years in Philadelphia, the Cubs brought him back in 2021 and for a while, it seemed worth it — he posted a 2.57 ERA with just two home runs allowed in his first five starts. After that, though, yikes, an injury and some poor pitching got him an ERA of 8.95 in his last 15 starts with the Cubs and an outright release after some ill-advised comments in a postgame presser.
Even with that awful end to his Cubs career, Arrieta gave the Cubs 17.8 bWAR and some unforgettable memories.
And I haven’t even gotten to Strop, who had 7.1 bWAR in eight Cubs seasons, was also a key 2016 World Series contributor and always a fan favorite. He’s one of the best relievers in franchise history.
Neither Feldman nor Clevenger did much in Baltimore. Theo and his scouting staff did a near-perfect job here identifying Cubs needs and finding the right undervalued players to fill them.
July 2: Acquired Matt Guerrier from the Dodgers for Carlos Marmol
Marmol’s Cubs career had really high peaks and really low valleys. After a couple of solid years as closer in 2010 and 2011, his performance had declined in 2013. The last straw, apparently, was blowing a 3-0 lead to the Mets in New York on June 16, allowing a three-run walkoff homer to spare-part outfielder Kirk Niewenhuis, who made a career out of hitting Cubs pitching and no one else. He pitched in just one more game for the Cubs after that before this trade, and didn’t do much for the Dodgers (0.3 bWAR) or Marlins the following year (-0.7 bWAR).
Guerrier, who had posted some decent relief seasons for the Twins from 2006-10, exactly matched Marmol’s Dodgers bWAR in 15 games for the Cubs (2.13 ERA), but they let him walk as a free agent at the end of the season.
July 8: Acquired Ivan Pineyro from the Nationals for Scott Hairston
Hairston had posted an .803 OPS with 20 home runs for the Mets in 2012, so it was hoped that... well, nope. Hairston was just awful for the Cubs. In his first 17 games, mostly as a bench player, he went 2-for-27. He left the team with a devilish .666 OPS, and wasn’t any better in Washington.
Pineyro never played in the major leagues. He was involved in another deal a couple of years later that brought MLB talent to the Cubs, if only briefly.
July 22: Acquired Carl Edwards Jr., Justin Grimm, Mike Olt and Neil Ramirez from the Rangers for Matt Garza
The guy the Cubs really wanted here was Olt, who had been a Top 100 prospect in 2012 and 2013. and who had hit .288/.398/.579 with 28 home runs in just 95 games in Double-A in ‘12. But Olt never did hit in MLB, though he was still playing in indy ball as recently as 2019. The Cubs eventually shipped him to the White Sox, where he became the first player to homer for both Chicago teams in the same season (2015).
Edwards had some really good relief seasons for the Cubs from 2016-18, then had trouble throwing strikes and it took him until 2022 to right the ship, when he had some good years for the Nationals. He’s currently a free agent. The Cubs could do worse than bringing him back.
Grimm also had a couple of good years in relief for the Cubs from 2014-16 before he, too, saw his performance decline. He had a good year in 2016.
The Cubs also hoped to get some good years out of Ramirez, but injuries ruined a promising career.
Garza posted a 4.38 ERA and -0.1 bWAR in 13 starts for the Rangers, then signed a four-year, $50 million deal with the Brewers, which, as previously noted in this series, was a really bad signing (total -0.7 bWAR in Milwaukee).
This was a very good deal for the Cubs and sort of made up for the players the Cubs gave up to get Garza in the first place.
Plus, we’ll always have this:
July 26: Acquired Corey Black from the Yankees for Alfonso Soriano
The Cubs paid about two-thirds of the $24 million remaining on Soriano’s contract to make this deal.
Black was a decent prospect for a while, but ultimately never played in the major leagues.
Soriano was worth 1.2 bWAR to the Yankees in 2013, but -1.2 bWAR in 2014 and released in mid-July, so a net zero in his return to New York.
Thus, I guess we can call this deal a wash, except for the $17 million or so the Cubs had to pay.
December 12: Acquired Justin Ruggiano from the Marlins for Brian Bogusevic
Bogusevic did not play at all for the Marlins. He was injured part of the year, and spent the rest in their minor league system.
Ruggiano hit .281/.337/.429 with 13 doubles and six home runs in 81 games for the Cubs in 2014, not bad for half a season’s work, though he posted -0.4 bWAR because his defense was, uh, questionable.
All in all, a bunch of minor deals that amounted to very little and one HUGE trade that’s one of the best ever for the Cubs. That alone gives 2013 an “A” grade.
Give the Cubs a grade for their 2013 trades.
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