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A look at Cubs trades in the expansion era: 2018

The Cubs made a couple of late-season trades to help them down the stretch.

Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

The Cubs did just about everything they could to not have to play the tiebreaker game with the Brewers that ultimately made them a wild card instead of the NL Central champions. Just one more regular-season win would have done it, but a back-breaking stretch of 42 games in 44 days to end the season (due to multiple postponements) did them in.

The team didn’t make a player-for-player trade in calendar year 2018 until July.

July 27: Acquired Cole Hamels from the Rangers for Eddie Butler, Rollie Lacy and Alexander Ovalles

The Cubs sought a starting pitcher and they got a good one. Hamels, who had broken the Cubs’ no-hit streak in 2015 when he no-hit them as a member of the Phillies at Wrigley Field, had a rough start to his 2018 season with Texas (4.72 ERA in 20 starts), but he was nails for the Cubs, posting a 2.36 ERA and 1.100 WHIP in 12 Cubs starts. That was good for 2.3 bWAR. He was named NL Pitcher of the Month for August 2018 for posting an 0.69 ERA and 1.000 WHIP in six starts, and the Cubs won all six games. Unfortunately, the Cubs offense died in the last week or two of the season and scored just two runs in Hamels’ final three starts — win just one of those games and the Cubs would have been NL Central champs.

The Cubs wound up exercising Hamels’ 2019 contract option and keeping him. He pitched well in 27 starts (3.81 ERA), but a minor injury down the stretch hurt his effectiveness.

Still, he gave the Cubs 5.0 bWAR in 39 starts. Butler made 22 relief appearances for the Rangers with -0.3 bWAR. Lacy and Ovalles never played in the majors, though Ovalles is still active in the Reds system. This was a very good trade for the Cubs.

July 31: Acquired Brandon Kintzler from the Nationals for Jhon Romero

Kintzler had been an effective middle reliever for the Twins, Brewers and Nats for nine years before this deal, but he was just bad for the Cubs in 2018, posting a 7.00 ERA and 2.00 WHIP. That was good for -0.6 bWAR. He was better for the Cubs the following year, with 1.6 bWAR off of a 2.68 ERA and 1.016 WHIP in 62 relief appearances.

Romero eventually made a handful of relief appearances for the Nats in 2021 and Twins in 2022, posting 0.1 bWAR in each. The Cubs got more value from this deal, but they could have used the 2019 version of Kintzler in 2018, and that didn’t happen.

August 21: Acquired Daniel Murphy from the Nationals for Andruw Monasterio

Murphy, who had demolished Cubs pitching in the 2015 NLCS and then had two very good years in Washington in 2016 and 2017, had been injured much of the early part of 2018 for the Nats, and though he put up okay numbers in 35 games with the Cubs (.297/.329/.471 with six home runs, 0.5 bWAR), he didn’t move the needle either for the division title or in the Wild Card game vs. the Rockies, where he went 0-for-4.

I had zero recollection that Monasterio was originally in the Cubs organization until I sat down to write this article. I suppose the Cubs shouldn’t feel TOO bad about dumping him — he was only 21 at the time of the deal and hadn’t played above A ball — because the Nats let him go, he was signed by Cleveland and they, too, let him go. He was signed by the Brewers before the 2022 season and though his overall numbers with Milwaukee in 2023 (.259/.330/.348 with seven stolen bases in 92 games) are somewhat pedestrian, he seemed to do pretty well as a versatile utility guy for them.

August 30: Acquired Bobby Wilson from the Twins for Chris Gimenez

Here is the article I wrote about this deal at the time it was made.

I didn’t really understand it then and I really don’t now. Wilson never played a single game in the Cubs organization, either for the MLB team or at Triple-A. At the end of the year he departed as a free agent, and played 15 games for the Tigers in 2019 before hanging ‘em up. Gimenez batted .276/.353/.517 (8-for-29) in 13 games for the Twins. The Cubs might as well have just kept him.

November 2: Traded Drew Smyly and a PTBNL to the Rangers for a PTBNL

Ah, yes! You had likely forgotten the Cubs had signed Smyly to a two-year deal before the 2018 season. He was recovering from TJS at the time and the team knew he likely wouldn’t pitch in ‘18, but hoped he would help the team in ‘19.

Basically, the Cubs made this deal to free up money to pay Hamels. Smyly was on track to make $7 million in 2019 and the Cubs used that to keep Hamels for one more year. That turned out to be worthwhile.

Smyly wound up posting a 6.42 ERA in 25 games (21 starts) split between the Rangers and Phillies in 2019, and the PTBNL portions of this deal were satisfied by the famous Cash Considerations.

Smyly, of course, wound up coming back to the Cubs as a FA before the 2022 season. He put together a good 2022 season (1.9 bWAR) and was on track to have a good 2023 before he just started getting torched in the second half. Moving him to the pen seemed to help and hopefully that’s where he will be, contributing to the team, in 2024.

November 20: Acquired Rowan Wick from the Padres for Jason Vosler

Vosler, a third baseman, was blocked with the Cubs at the time because of Kris Bryant, so they figured they’d try to get some value from him.

And they did, for a while, from Wick. In four Cubs seasons Wick posted a 3.66 ERA and gave the team 0.8 bWAR. Injuries limited his time in a couple of those seasons and he was released last July after posting an 8.60 ERA in 23 games at Iowa. He spent a bit of time in the Blue Jays and Braves organizations after the Cubs let him go.

In December he signed with the Yokohama Bay Stars of NPB — the same team new Cub Shōta Imanaga pitched for. I wish Wick well in Japan.

November 29: Acquired Conor Lillis-White from the Angels for Tommy La Stella

If you think the Cubs are cheap now, this deal is perhaps the epitome of cheapness. MLB Trade Rumors projected TLS at $1.2 million in arbitration for 2019. The MLB minimum salary in 2019 was $555,000. So over $645,000 (presuming the Cubs replaced TLS with a minimum-salary player) the Cubs dumped the guy who had just established a franchise record for pinch hits in a season (24). Sure, he wasn’t great as a starting player but off the bench he had hit .312/.398/.416 (24-for-77) with five doubles, a home run and nine walks. Any team could use a guy like that!

Then, amazingly, TLS put together a spectacular half season for the Angels, batting .295/.346/.486 with 16 home runs in just 80 games. He made the AL All-Star team! Then he suffered a season-ending ankle injury.

That was a 1.9 bWAR season in those 80 games. The Cubs could have used that. TLS then put together two decent seasons in San Francisco in ‘21 and ‘22 and was still playing late last year for the Mariners.

Conor Lillis-White never played a single game in the Cubs organization and has been out of baseball since 2018.

This was a terrible, terrible trade that never should have been made.

Oh, also — after the Cubs made this deal they did not replace TLS with a minimum-salary guy. No, instead they signed Daniel Descalso to a three-year deal that ultimately cost them $5 million, including buyouts, and Descalso was just awful for the Cubs, batting .173/.271/.250 (-0.9 bWAR) in 82 games.

To recap: The Cubs traded away a useful player, got nothing in return, and then replaced the useful player with a more expensive player who contributed negative value to the team. A real “What were you thinking?” sort of thing.

The Hamels deal was very good but the rest of these range from “meh” to “awful,” so overall I’m grading these a C-.


Give the Cubs a grade for their 2018 trades.

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