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A look at Cubs trades in the expansion era: 2016

The Cubs broke the World Series drought in 2016. And a couple of trades helped them get there.

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There weren’t too many Cubs trades in 2016, because the team that eventually won the World Series had been put together largely by free agency and guys from the farm system (though one key player on the WS champs, Anthony Rizzo, arrived in a trade we’ve covered earlier in this series).

But a couple of deals in this championship year were very important in October.

February 25: Acquired Aaron Brooks from the Athletics for Chris Coghlan

This trade was consummated on the same day Dexter Fowler made his surprise appearance at Spring Training, signing a one-year deal to return to the Cubs after there had been rumors he’d signed with Baltimore.

Once Fowler was on board, Coghlan was seen as superfluous, so off he went to the A’s.

I swear there have been several guys named Aaron Brooks who played major-league baseball, but it turns out this is the only one. (A minor leaguer in the same era had the same name, and then there’s the NBA player who was a Chicago Bull for a while, and this guy who was an NFL quarterback for the Saints. Too many to figure out.

Anyway, this Aaron Brooks never did play for the Cubs, and eventually wound up back in Oakland, and pitched a couple years in Korea before coming back for one last MLB season in St. Louis in 2022.

As for Coghlan...

June 9: Acquired Chris Coghlan from the Athletics for Arismendy Alcantara

Alcantara was a highly-rated prospect at one time, breaking into the Top 100 before 2014. But he never did much in the majors, and had negative bWAR for the A’s in 2016 and Reds in 2017.

The Cubs actually wound up needing Coghlan as a backup outfielder after Kyle Schwarber’s injury earlier in the year. He had posted a .487 (!) OPS in 51 games for the A’s, but hit much better after his return to the Cubs, batting .252/.391/.388 in 48 games with 0.6 bWAR, though he went 0-for-8 in the postseason. Got himself a ring, though.

July 20: Acquired Mike Montgomery and Jordan Pries from the Mariners for Paul Blackburn and Daniel Vogelbach

Sadly, BCB favorite Vogelbach never wound up being traded for Mike Trout, as so many of you wanted him to be. (Yes, I’m kidding.)

But Vogelbach did bring back some value in Montgomery. Though Montgomery never did fulfill his promise (former No. 1 pick, 36th overall, of the Royals in 2008), he was on the mound for the most important play in recent Cubs history:

The Cubs got 3.3 bWAR from Montgomery in four seasons.

Vogelbach eventually wound up having one of the weirdest 30-HR seasons ever when he batted .208/.341/.439 for the Mariners in 2019, but he only posted 1.1 bWAR because his defense was so bad. He did make the AL All-Star team and when I went to see the Cubs play the Mariners in T-Mobile Park that year, I saw these shirts for sale:

Al Yellon

No, I did not buy one.

That had to be one of the biggest Three True Outcomes year ever. In 558 PA, Vogelbach hit 30 homers, walked 92 times and struck out 149, so 48.6 percent of his PA wound up in a TTO.

Blackburn never played for the Mariners, eventually being traded to the A’s, where he’s had a couple of okay years as a starter.

Pries never played in the majors.

I think the Cubs would say they won this deal.

July 25: Acquired Aroldis Chapman from the Yankees for Gleyber Torres, Adam Warren, Billy McKinney and Rashad Crawford

This deal was controversial at the time because of Chapman’s off-field troubles. He issued an apology and it was accepted by some, not by others, and the team moved on. Essentially, this deal boiled down to Chapman for Torres, because Crawford never played in the majors and McKinney didn’t give the Yankees much, though he did wind up as a decent bit player there in 2023 after also playing for the Blue Jays, Brewers, Mets, Dodgers and A’s. Warren had been a Yankee, acquired in the Starlin Castro deal, but it didn’t work out and Theo Epstein was more than happy to ship him back.

Torres paid dividends for the Yankees two years later, finishing third in AL Rookie of the Year voting and posting a 3.6 bWAR season, followed up by one of 3.0 bWAR. After a couple of rough years in 2020 and 2021, he’s come back to near his earlier level over the last two seasons and overall has given the Yankees 14.4 bWAR.

But you know what, the Cubs got a ring in no insignificant part because of Chapman’s contributions. He posted a 1.01 ERA and 0.825 WHIP in 28 games for the Cubs (1.2 bWAR) and though he had run out of gas by Game 7, partly due to Joe Maddon’s overuse of him, what he did in the ninth inning of that game was one of the most gutsy performances I have ever seen. He had nothing left. Cleveland hitters knew he had nothing left. And still, after giving up the game-tying homer to Rajai Davis, he retired three really good hitters (Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor) in order in the ninth, setting the stage for the win you see above.

Eternally grateful. Flags fly forever. Torres can make 10 All-Star teams in New York or elsewhere and I don’t care. The Cubs won the World Series in part because of this trade.

December 7: Acquired Wade Davis from the Royals for Jorge Soler

This is another deal we’d remember much more fondly if the Cubs had gone back to the WS in 2017.

They didn’t, but it wasn’t Davis’ fault. He posted a 2.30 ERA and 1.142 WHIP and 32 saves in 33 opportunities, not blowing one until late September. By that time he had established a Cubs franchise record for consecutive save chances converted (32). He was also nails in the decisive Game 5 of the NLDS against the Nationals. Maddon called on him for a multi-inning save and he did allow a run, but in the ninth retired Trea Turner, Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper to close things out. Here’s that K of Harper:

Some people thought the Cubs should keep Davis after 2017, but the Rockies signed him to a three-year, $52 million deal that was a complete disaster. Davis posted a 6.49 ERA in those three years in Colorado and had -2.0 bWAR.

Soler was deemed expendable because Schwarber was returning — again, had the NL had the DH then, maybe the Cubs would have made a different deal. But Soler had trouble staying on the field healthy with the Cubs, and the same thing happened in Kansas City — until he did stay healthy in 2019 and hit .265/.354/.569 with an AL-leading 48 home runs. He helped the Braves win the WS in 2021, was injured again in 2022 and had another good year in ‘23 for the Marlins. He’s now a free agent.

Interestingly, the Royals got less bWAR (1.5) from five years of Soler than the Cubs got from one year of Davis (1.9 bWAR), largely because Soler was such a defensive liability.

Overall, the Cubs got some players who helped them win division titles and postseason series here, without any real clunkers. This is an A- year for Theo Epstein’s trades.


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