2020 began like any other year, and then it wasn’t. And so the early-year deals were just like any other, and then... things changed.
This was Theo Epstein’s final year as Cubs President of Baseball Operations. He resigned November 20 and was replaced by Jed Hoyer.
January 20: Acquired Alfonso Rivas from the Athletics for Tony Kemp
Rivas was a high-OBP, mid-range power guy in the A’s system, but didn’t show much of either of those in 119 games with the Cubs in 2021 and 2022, giving the team 0.5 bWAR on numbers of .247/.331/.322 with four home runs.
Kemp batted .240/.330/.345 and had 3.2 bWAR in four years with the A’s. He’s currently a free agent.
January 17: Acquired Casey Sadler from the Dodgers for Clayton Daniel
Because 2020, this turned out to be a bad deal for the Cubs. Sadler pitched in 10 games for the Cubs in the shortened season with a 5.79 ERA (-0.2 bWAR) and was lost to the Mariners on waivers in September.
He had a good year for the Mariners in 2021, then missed all of the 2022 season with Tommy John surgery, his second TJS. He was back pitching in the Seattle organization late in 2023, but is currently a free agent.
Daniel played in the Dodgers organization in 2021, but is now out of baseball and never played in the majors.
January 21: Acquired Travis Lakins Sr. from the Red Sox for Jhonny Pereda
This turned out to be a nothing deal — for the Cubs, who lost Lakins on waivers to the Orioles 10 days later. He had one good year, one mediocre one and one bad season in Baltimore (total -0.5 bWAR) and pitched in 2023 in indy ball. Pereda was still in the minors, in the Reds system, in 2023.
After this, the pandemic interrupted everything and slowed transactions to a crawl. They were prohibited outright, for a while, until late May. The trade deadline for the shortened season was set at August 31 and that’s when the Cubs made some deals.
August 30: Acquired Jose Martinez from the Rays for Pedro Martinez
No, not THAT Pedro Martinez. This guy, an infielder, had been signed by the Cubs out of Venezuela in 2017 and eventually wound up in the Phillies organization, where he played in 2023.
Jose Martinez is a very odd story. He had two good years and one okay year for the Cardinals from 2017-19, overall batting .298/.363/.458 with 41 home runs in 398 games. He went to Tampa Bay in the deal that also sent Randy Arozarena to the Rays, in exchange for Matthew Liberatore and another minor leaguer. Pretty lopsided in favor of Tampa Bay.
But Martinez’ numbers declined in Tampa Bay. He batted .239/.329/.388 with two home runs in 24 games and so he was made available.
And then he came to the Cubs and did not hit — at all. In 10 games he went 0-for-21 with seven strikeouts. As far as I know that’s the most at-bats for any non-pitching Cubs career where the player had no hits. He left at the end of the year as a free agent and was still playing in the Mexican League in 2023.
August 31: Acquired Andrew Chafin from the Diamondbacks for Ronny Simon
Chafin had been injured much of 2020 and so didn’t do much for the team then (only four games), but had a fantastic 2021 season (2.06 ERA, 0.839 WHIP, 1.5 bWAR), which brought Daniel Palencia and Greg Deichmann in trade. Deichmann’s gone, but Palencia could be a key part of the Cubs’ 2024 bullpen.
Simon is 23 and reached Triple-A in the Rays system in 2023.
August 31: Acquired Josh Osich from the Red Sox for Zach Bryant
“Cubs trade Bryant!” read the snarky headlines. Of course, this was a different Bryant, who was let go by the Red Sox after 2022.
Osich pitched in four games for the Cubs with a 10.13 ERA — enough for -0.5 bWAR even in that short a time. He was released at the end of the season and pitched briefly for the Reds in 2021.
August 31: Acquired Cameron Maybin from the Tigers for Zack Short
Maybin had put together some decent years for the Marlins and Padres, among others, but was near the end of the line in 2020. He hit .250/.304/.365 (13-for-52) in 18 games for the Cubs, and did wind up winning a game with this walkoff HBP against Cleveland [VIDEO].
That was all worth 0.0 bWAR. Zack Short has turned into a decent spare-part infielder for the Tigers, last year providing 0.5 bWAR. So this, the last trade made by Theo Epstein, turned into a small net negative for the Cubs.
November 29: Acquired Zach Davies, Owen Caissie, Reginald Preciado, Ismael Mena and Yeison Santana from the Padres for Yu Darvish and Victor Caratini
This was the first trade made by Jed Hoyer after taking over as President of Baseball Operations, and it instantly became controversial because it appeared to have been ordered by ownership to cut salaries after the so-called “biblical” losses due to the pandemic.
Darvish had about $70 million remaining on his Cubs contract when the trade was made. If the Cubs had kept him, would the 2021 team have done better in contending and then avoided the selloff? Unlikely, because even though Davies was absolutely terrible in a Cubs uniform (32 starts, 5.78 ERA, led the league in walks, -1.0 bWAR), Darvish’s 2021 numbers in San Diego were a big downturn from his final year in Chicago — 4.22 ERA, 1.4 bWAR. Better, but likely not enough to move the needle. It’s likely Darvish would have been part of the selloff if the Cubs had kept him.
The Padres insisted on Caratini being included in the deal because he had become Darvish’s personal catcher. That hurt the Cubs because Caratini had become one of the better backup catchers in the league, and the collection of eight (!) guys they used to back up Willson Contreras in 2021 were, in a word, awful.
Of the four prospects the Cubs received, only Caissie has really done anything resembling becoming a good major leaguer — he was a Top 100 Baseball Prospectus prospect in 2022 and 2023. He batted .289/.399/.519 with 31 doubles and 22 home runs last year at Double-A Tennessee, at age 20. 2024 is his age-21 season, and he’ll be one of the younger players at Triple-A Iowa. Preciado, still only 20, has a chance to recover and have a MLB career, but he’s coming off a rough 2023.
Last year the Padres signed Darvish to an extension that will have him on their team until he’s 41, in 2028. I suspect they’ll regret that.
Would a good MLB career from Caissie make this trade a good one?
Overall 2020 was weird in many ways, and most of these trades gave the Cubs nothing (yet). This is a D grade year.
Give the Cubs a grade for their 2020 trades.
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