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A look at Cubs trades in the expansion era: 2015

The team made one key deal that helped them make the postseason.

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Going into 2015, many Cubs fans were optimistic because of the signing of Joe Maddon to manage, and then Jon Lester to pitch.

The optimism proved to be true with a 97-win wild card season and an NLCS appearance.

January 14: Acquired Lars Huijer from the Mariners for Mike Kickham

I swear, I am not making up these names.

The Cubs had claimed Kickham on waivers from the Giants three weeks earlier. He resurfaced in the majors in 2020, but overall his MLB record wasn’t good (10.10 ERA in 21 games). He was still playing indy ball in 2023, though not well there either (7.65 ERA in 93 innings).

Huijer was signed out of the Netherlands by the Mariners in 2011, but never played in the majors. He was still pitching in the Dutch professional league in 2023.

January 19: Acquired Dexter Fowler from the Astros for Dan Straily and Luis Valbuena

Straily was acquired from the A’s in the Jeff Samardzija deal in 2014 and trading him for Fowler made that an excellent trade.

Fowler had an immediate impact on the Cubs as Maddon’s “You go, we go” leadoff hittr in 2015 and 2016. He batted .261/.367/.427 in his two Cubs years with 30 home runs and 33 stolen bases in 281 games. It’s notable that the Cubs were 171-96 (.640) with Fowler in the starting lineup in those two years, but just 29-27 (.518) when he wasn’t. In some ways the Cubs still haven’t replaced that top-of-the-lineup production. Overall he had 6.4 bWAR in his two years in Chicago, then got paid in St. Louis, though spent a lot of that time with the Cardinals injured.

Valbuena had a couple of decent years in Houston, where he hit for a lot more power than he had in Chicago, and two more in Anaheim. Sadly, he died in a car accident in his native Venezuela in December 2018, aged just 33.

This was an excellent deal for the Cubs.

May 19: Acquired Yoervis Medina from the Mariners for Welington Castillo

With the acquisitions of David Ross and Miguel Montero, Castillo’s playing time had dwindled to almost nothing by the time of this deal.

Medina had been a decent reliever in Seattle in 2013 and 2014, but for some reason just didn’t click in Chicago, posting a 7.00 ERA in five games in two stints with the Cubs before spending the rest of 2015 at Triple-A Iowa, where he didn’t pitch well either (6.59 ERA in 28 games). Eventually he was claimed on waivers by the Pirates, but he never played in the majors again.

Castillo didn’t last in Seattle, either. They traded him to the Diamondbacks two weeks later, and he put up good numbers in Arizona (.255/.317/.496 with 17 home runs in 80 games). He played well there in 2016 as well, had a good year in Baltimore in 2017 (2.3 bWAR, 20 HR in 96 games) and finished up with two decent seasons for the White Sox in 2018 and 2019.

It was clear that the Cubs had to deal Castillo with Ross and Montero on board. Theo Epstein just didn’t get good enough value for him.

July 3: Acquired Manuel Rondon from the Angels for Rafael Lopez

Lopez was another catcher in the organization who the team had no place for, with Ross and Montero in place and Willson Contreras in the wings. Rondon, no relation to Hector Rondon, never played in the majors. Lopez never played for the Angels in the majors, either, and they released him at the end of 2015. He played a few MLB games for the Reds, Blue Jays and Padres from 2016-18.

July 31: Acquired Dan Haren from the Marlins for Elliot Soto and Ivan Pineyro

Haren was the Cubs’ starting pitcher trade deadline acquisition. He’d posted some very good years for the A’s, D-backs and Angels previously, but was just about done by the time he donned Cubs pinstripes. Still, he ate up some innings and posted a 4.02 ERA in 11 starts, though was left off postseason rosters.

What was fun about Haren was his hilarious Twitter account, named @ithrow88 (after the velocity he had near the end of his career), and this BCB article from early 2016 notes one particular day when he got bored and began tweeting out some random facts from his career. Worth a look seven years later.

You might recall Soto’s name because the Cubs re-signed him after 2016 and he wound up appearing in quite a few Spring Training games for the team. Eventually the Chicago-area native (Dundee-Crown HS in Carpentersville) played in a few MLB games for the Angels in 2020 and was still active in 2023 in the Twins organization in Triple-A.

Pineyro never played in the majors, but was still active in indy ball in 2023.

July 31: Acquired Tommy Hunter from the Orioles for Junior Lake

The Cubs tried to bolster the bullpen with the acquisition of Hunter, but he pitched poorly (5.74 ERA in 19 games) before leaving as a free agent. After 2015, though, Hunter pitched in 224 more games for the Indians, Orioles, Rays, Phillies and Mets (pay attention, Immaculate Grid fans!) with a 3.40 ERA and 4.4 bWAR.

Lake was a top Cubs prospect who never did much with the Cubs, or with the Orioles or Blue Jays, with whom he finished his brief MLB career in 2016. I remember Josh noting Lake’s strong arm and wondering why the Cubs didn’t try him as a pitcher. Couldn’t have done much worse than Hunter did in his brief time in Chicago. Lake was still active, age 33, in the Mexican League in 2023.

What I think I’ll remember most about Junior Lake is this:

Here’s a bit more:

November 20: Acquired Spencer Patton from the Rangers for Frandy De La Rosa

Patton pitched poorly for the Cubs (5.48 ERA in 16 games), spent most of 2016 at Iowa (but got a World Series ring!), then spent four years in Japan where he put up a 3.68 ERA in 219 games. He returned to MLB and had a decent year in 2021 in Texas and was still active with the A’s in 2023.

De La Rosa never played in the majors.

November 25: Acquired Rex Brothers from the Rockies for Wander Cabrera

Brothers had a weird little odyssey with the Cubs. They released him during Spring Training 2016, then he played in the Braves and Yankees systems before the Cubs reacquired him and he pitched for them in 2020 and 2021, and not well (5.43 ERA in 60 games, -0.3 bWAR).

Cabrera never played in the majors.

December 8: Acquired Adam Warren and Brendan Ryan from the Yankees for Starlin Castro

This was, pure and simple, a salary dump.

The Cubs wanted to free themselves of the four years and about $40 million remaining on Castro’s deal so they could sign Ben Zobrist to a four-year, $56 million contract. The Yankees were willing to take on Castro’s money — as long as the Cubs would take Ryan, who had $1 million left on his deal. The Cubs released Ryan a week later.

Warren had pitched well for the Yankees but in Chicago, he was just bad (5.68 ERA in 29 games), and the Cubs sent him back to New York in the Aroldis Chapman deal the following summer, at which time he began pitching well again.

The Cubs announced the Zobrist signing the same day this deal was made. I’d say that worked out pretty well.

A bunch of nothing trades and a couple of important ones, and the Fowler deal alone gives these a B- grade.


Give the Cubs a grade for their 2015 trades.

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