The Cubs didn’t make any offseason trades in the winter of 2021-22 after the big selloff, instead limiting many transactions to guys they would sign in anticipation of selling them off at the deadline to rebuild the farm system.
And that’s exactly what happened.
March 25: Acquired Esteban Quiroz from the Rays for Harold Ramirez
This was very odd. Ramirez had been acquired from Cleveland for cash considerations the previous November, but he apparently had visa issues and never reported to the Cubs for Spring Training.
He wasn’t a great player, but at age 26 maybe the Cubs should have worked through those visa issues with him and kept him. Quiroz, at the time, was a 30-year-old who had played in the Mexican League and briefly in the Red Sox and Rays systems. He hit .268/.401/.526 with 12 home runs in 68 games at Triple-A Durham in 2021. Which is good, but...
Anyway, the Cubs gave Quiroz a look in September 2022 and he had five good games in a row in which he went 8-for-19 (.421). Otherwise his numbers were pedestrian and the Cubs sent him to the Phillies for cash considerations just short of one year after this trade.
Meanwhile, Ramirez hit .268/.401/.526 with 12 home runs for the Rays last year, a 2.1 bWAR season.
This was not a good trade for the Cubs.
April 21: Acquired Sean Newcomb from the Braves for Jesse Chavez
This was Chavez’ second tour with the Cubs, as he’d also pitched well for them down the stretch in 2018. In ‘22 he pitched in only three games for the Cubs with a 6.75 ERA. Back in Atlanta, for his THIRD stint there, he pitched much better (2.72 ERA in 46 games, 1.0 bWAR) and helped bring Atlanta’s current closer, Raisel Iglesias, when he was traded to the Angels later that year.
It’s said that Chavez is the “most-traded player in MLB history” and if you look at this transaction history, I can’t imagine you’ll disagree:
Trading for Newcomb wasn’t a terrible idea. He’d had a couple of decent years as a starter in Atlanta in 2017 and 2018, but injuries had reduced his effectiveness. With the Cubs in the “rebuild that wasn’t a rebuild,” sure, it was worth trading a 38-year-old reliever for a lottery ticket starter.
It didn’t work — Newcomb posted a 9.13 ERA and -1.3 bWAR in 17 games for the Cubs and left as a free agent at the end of the season.
July 30: Acquired Zach McKinstry from the Dodgers for Chris Martin
Martin didn’t do too well for the Cubs — 4.31 ERA, -0.1 bWAR in 34 games — but was lights-out in L.A., with a 1.46 ERA and 1.0 bWAR in 26 games. Then he signed a two-year, $17.5 million deal with the Red Sox. So, good for him.
McKinstry ... well, didn’t do much for the Cubs, batting .206/.272/.361 with 0.5 bWAR, and then was sent to the Tigers early in 2023, and had a pretty good year for them, with a .654 OPS (better than Javy Báez, .593!) and 1.0 bWAR.
The Cubs might have kept McKinstry if they thought he was going to do that.
July 31: Acquired Raynel Espinal from the Giants for Dixon Machado
These players were minor leaguers at the time of the deal, and Machado played in only five games for the Giants. Espinal pitched in two games for Triple-A Iowa with a 16.20 ERA and was released. He spent 2023 pitching for Yakult in NPB.
August 1: Acquired Hayden Wesneski from the Yankees for Scott Effross
This deal was not popular among some when it was made, as Effross had pitched well in relief and had several years of team control remaining.
It was thought that Wesneski could make the Cubs rotation and would have the full six years of control left, and that’s why this deal was made.
Wesneski, as you know, threw well in six games (four starts) for the Cubs in ‘22, posting a 2.18 ERA with 33 strikeouts and only seven walks in 33 innings. That included an immaculate inning against the Pirates [VIDEO].
Wesneski started 2023 in the Cubs rotation, got shelled a couple of times, got moved to the bullpen, got sent to Iowa to reset, and threw a bit better after the reset. He might not have a place in the 2024 rotation, and perhaps the bullpen is his future. He’s 26 and now is the time for him to succeed.
Effross missed the 2023 season with Tommy John surgery, but the Yankees expect him back in 2024. This could still wind up a useful deal for both teams.
August 2: Acquired Saul Gonzalez from the Mets for Mychal Givens
Givens had pitched really well for the Cubs (2.66 ERA, 1.0 bWAR) but was just awful in New York (4.79 ERA, including five runs allowed in less than an inning in his very first game for them) and they let him walk via free agency. He pitched a few games, not well, for his original team, the Orioles, in 2023 and was done.
Gonzalez put up some good numbers in 2023, but he has yet to play above Low-A and he’s now 24. 2024 will be an important year for him.
August 2: Acquired Ben Brown from the Phillies for David Robertson
This was a solid year for the Cubs getting enough out of veteran relievers to get some useful returns. Robertson had posted 14 saves and a 2.23 ERA in 36 games for the Cubs, and also threw well in Philadelphia, enough to help them get to the World Series.
Brown will have a chance to make the Cubs rotation in 2024. His numbers have been up and down in the Cubs system and, at age 24, this is likely a key year for him as well.
November 15: Acquired Miles Mastrobuoni from the Rays for Alfredo Zarraga
Mastrobuoni rode the Iowa Shuttle most of 2023, starting the year on the Opening Day roster and being optioned three different times. He got little playing time until the last recall, when he wound up playing third base in place of the injured Jeimer Candelario. His first 34 games as a Cub produced a slash line of .155/.268/.197 (11-for-71), though he drew 11 walks and stole eight bases without being caught in that time frame.
From July 18 to the end of the season, Mastrobuoni hit .339/.359/.419 (21-for-62) with two doubles and his first MLB home run [VIDEO].
It could be that Mastrobuoni will be a useful bench player under Craig Counsell. David Ross didn’t seem to want to use him much. “As always, we await developments.”
Zarraga, a righthander, posted a 2.71 ERA in 42 relief appearances in the Rays system in 2023, mostly at High-A Bowling Green. He’s 23 and seems likely ticketed for Double-A this year.
I have to give these trades an “incomplete” grade because we still don’t know how much value the Cubs could get. Wesneski and Brown could still be useful contributors, and even Gonzalez could help going forward. If I had to give an actual grade it’d probably be a C- due to the mediocre/bad deals made early on.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This series will conclude with articles on 2023 and 2024 trades, Monday and Tuesday.
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