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A look at Cubs trades in the expansion era: 2021

Oh, man. Here we go.

Photo by Matt Dirksen/Getty Images

The Cubs’ World Series core was given one more chance at contention in 2021. And they did get off to a good start. After a combined no-hitter over the Dodgers June 24, they were 42-33 and tied for first place in the NL Central.

An 11-game losing streak followed, and overall they went 5-17 in their next 22 games, which put up the “FOR SALE” sign in Jed Hoyer’s office.

March 7: Acquired Shendrik Apostel from the Pirates for Duane Underwood Jr.

Again, no, I did not make up that name. Apostel, from Curacao, played 18 games for the rookie league Cubs in 2021 and has been out of baseball since.

Underwood was once a prized Cubs prospect, their second-round pick in 2012. He was a Top 100 prospect in 2016, but never panned out as a starter.

The Pirates turned him into a reliever, with some success, though his 2023 season was brief and ruined by injury. Overall they’ve had negative bWAR (-0.2) from him.

April 5: Acquired Dauris Valdez from the Padres for James Norwood

Norwood, a hard-throwing righthander, never did much for the Cubs, and pitched in only five games for the Padres. He pitched in 22 games for the Phillies in 2022, spent last year in the Yankees minor league system, and is currently a free agent.

Valdez pitched a couple years in the Cubs system, but not very many games (injured?) and was done after 2022.

Now come the deadline deals, in which the Cubs shipped away nine players in eight deals beginning right after the All-Star break. Here’s a summary I wrote as the dust was clearing three summers ago, and here’s each deal and how it’s shaken out for both teams.

July 15: Acquired Bryce Ball from the Braves for Joc Pederson

All I’ll say is this: If the Cubs had kept Kyle Schwarber, they probably could have received more in trade than Ball, who was let go last summer.

Pederson hit only a bit better in Atlanta (.752 OPS in 64 games) than he had in Chicago (.718 OPS in 73 games), but got himself a World Series ring.

July 26: Acquired Daniel Palencia and Greg Deichmann from the Athletics for Andrew Chafin

Chafin had a very good year for the Cubs (2.06 ERA, 0.839 WHIP in 43 games) and was good in Oakland, too, though it did not help them to a postseason spot.

Deichmann went 4-for-30 with 14 strikeouts for the Cubs and is currently a free agent.

Palencia has the chance to make this a real good deal. He showed flashes of brilliance in 27 games for the Cubs in 2023, with 33 strikeouts in 28⅓ innings. He turns 24 in a couple of weeks and is expected to be a key contributor to the Cubs bullpen in 2024. He throws hard, if he can harness command and control he can be a really good reliever in this league.

July 29: Acquired Kevin Alcántara and Alexander Vizcaino from the Yankees for Anthony Rizzo

Rizzo has performed at around his career norms for the Yankees, with whom he re-signed as a free agent after 2021. A concussion ruined his 2023 season and it remains to be seen if he still has effects from that.

Alcántara has been a star in the Cubs system and has a chance to become a real good MLB player. He’s 21 and likely playing Double-A ball this year, so it might be a year or two before he hits the majors. But he’s been checking all the boxes up to now.

Vizcaino was placed on the restricted list by the Cubs for failure to report:

He never pitched in the Cubs organization.

July 29: Acquired Bailey Horn from the White Sox for Ryan Tepera

Horn is 25 and was recently placed on the Cubs’ 40-man roster. He’ll get a chance to make the Opening Day roster and, as the Cubs can always use more lefthanders, I’d say he has a reasonable shot.

Tepera posted a 2.50 ERA in 22 games for the White Sox (0.7 bWAR) and pitched reasonably well for them in the postseason before leaving as a free agent. He later pitched for the Angels and Cardinals, and of course will always have that one mistaken MVP vote from 2020.

July 30: Acquired Pete Crow-Armstrong from the Mets for Javier Báez and Trevor Williams

Fast-forward a decade and this might be one of the best deals in Cubs history. It all depends on whether PCA fulfills his promise, which many of us think he will. PCA turns 22 in March and probably still needs more Triple-A time, but he’s already got Gold Glove skills in center field.

Javy had a tumultuous time in New York, the Mets missed the postseason and he got a big-money deal from the Tigers, for whom he’s been just awful. Williams had a decent year as a swingman for the Mets in 2022, but he signed with the Nats in 2023 and posted a 5.55 ERA and -0.1 bWAR.

This could wind up a HUGE win for the Cubs.

July 30: Acquired Caleb Kilian and Alexander Canario from the Giants for Kris Bryant

KB posted a .788 OPS and 1.1 bWAR for the Giants, who missed the postseason, and then signed a big-money deal in Colorado. So far he’s had two injury-plagued seasons in which it took him until early 2023 to hit his first home run in Coors Field. I feel badly for Bryant for all the injuries. I believe he had Hall of Fame talent.

Kilian was bad in a handful of starts for the Cubs over the last couple of years and in December I posted this article suggesting the Cubs try him in the bullpen. I still hope they will.

Canario got a shot at the big leagues last September and went 5-for-17 with a home run — a grand slam against the Pirates [VIDEO].

He’ll get a chance to be part of the Cubs outfield this year. This could be another really good deal for the Cubs, down the road.

July 30: Acquired Nick Madrigal and Codi Heuer from the White Sox for Craig Kimbrel

The funniest thing about this deal is how bad Kimbrel was against the Cubs after the deal. In four games against the Cubs in 2021, Kimbrel allowed six runs and three home runs to his former teammates, a 20.25 ERA. Overall he had a 5.09 ERA and 0.0 bWAR for the Sox, then left as a free agent.

Madrigal and Heuer... sigh. Both had MLB experience at the time of the trade. Both had performed well for the Sox. And both... got hurt. Heuer posted a 3.14 ERA in 20 games for the Cubs in ‘21, then got hurt, then had Tommy John surgery and another injury trying to rehab the TJS and is currently a free agent.

Madrigal has his limitations. He has little power and no speed and rarely walks. To his credit he learned to play a credible third base for the Cubs, but really doesn’t have a position now.

Neither team got a lot of value out of the deal. Those home runs off Kimbrel were pretty funny, though. Here’s one by Andrew Romine [VIDEO] — the only one he hit as a Cub and his last as a major leaguer.

July 30: Acquired Anderson Espinoza from the Padres for Jake Marisnick

Marisnick played reasonably well for the Cubs and was a fan favorite at the time of this deal. He didn’t do much for the Padres (.472 OPS, -0.2 bWAR in 31 games) and Espinoza had a 5.40 ERA in seven games for the Cubs in 2022, 0.0 bWAR. A small “win” for the Cubs, then?

Overall, then, the Cubs got LOTS of potential future value in these deadline deals, and of the players traded away, only Rizzo has performed anywhere near his previous level. Since the Cubs haven’t yet received a lot of MLB value from these deals, they could be graded “incomplete.” However, just on potential I’ll give them a B.


Give the Cubs a grade for their 2021 trades.

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