Patience required as Cubs build up talent
Though reality fell short of hopes, prospect haul at Deadline the start for Theo and Co.
That the Cubs were open for business at the Trade Deadline was about as predictable as people sucking down Old Style at a Wrigley matinee. Their status as sellers was cemented well before the season's first pitch.It was one of those significant mileposts at which the Theo Epstein regime could seemingly flash its evaluative might, making a purge for prospects, swapping short-term veteran presence on a team going nowhere for long-term contractual control of projectable talents. Business, though, was not quite as booming as the Cubs intended, and the reasons for that were largely out of their control. Ryan Dempster was well within his rights to hold the Cubbies hostage with his 10-and-5 trade veto power, but he held them hostage all the same. And the Matt Garza injury, which had him shelved on Deadline day, impacted his market, or lack thereof. So when the dust had settled Tuesday, the Cubs had moved Paul Maholm, Reed Johnson and Geovany Soto, had made a last-minute deal of Dempster and had reeled in five young bodies they hope will fit within the "foundation for sustained success." But even with a 40-percent turnover in the starting rotation, these were not the sweeping changes (Alfonso Soriano is still standing in left field, after all) or the huge haul some had expected. And perhaps those expectations were overly anticipatory, anyway. For the Cubs, it is going to be a slow and often painful process (as if North Siders don't already know quite a bit about slow and painful). We've known that from the day Epstein rode in from Boston, but the difficulty of the dealing that was illustrated in recent weeks only further hammers that point home. Because while it is unfair to fault the Cubs' approach and execution at the Deadline, the reality remains that the closest thing they received to Major League-ready talent of the high-impact variety was Tommy John surgery recipient Arodys Vizcaino, who won't be available to them until midway through the 2013 season. It's a process. But at least the Cubs' system, also augmented by Cuban import Jorge Soler and top Draft pick Albert Almora in recent months, is further along than it was before. "We're getting there," general manager Jed Hoyer told reporters. "We have to have a lot more good Drafts and make more good trades. I think the best teams are able to replenish the bullpen internally and able to bring up starters from the Minor Leagues whenever they need to, and we're not at that point yet. Since we got here, we've worked hard to build up that depth. I don't think the job is complete." No, it's not. Neither, in fact, is the in-season dealing, for Soriano, owed roughly another $42 million through 2014, must be moved, no matter the financial ramifications, if he can reap any sort of reasonable return. He'll certainly clear waivers, and he's cooperated by posting probably his strongest offensive season in four years. "We had some interest," Hoyer said. "You should have interest -- he's having a [great] year." The Soriano sell job was still on in full effect even after the Deadline had passed, and the Garza market will be explored again over the winter. The concern for the Cubs, though, has to be that the market for starters will become crowded with other, more accomplished pitchers such as Cliff Lee or Josh Johnson, thereby affecting the Garza price tag. That's why his untimely injury hit hard. "Teams ultimately shied away [after] not seeing a guy on the mound," Hoyer said. "So it certainly hurt his market." Give the Cubs credit for the chicken salad they concocted out of this situation. It's not exactly headline friendly to trade for a guy currently out of commission in Vizcaino, but he lit up radar guns before surgery and the recovery rate from Tommy John is roughly 85 percent. The only circumstance in which the Cubs could get a high-upside arm like Vizcaino without forking over top-end talent is if he's hurt or struggling. Getting him for Maholm and Johnson, in whom the Cubs had invested less than $6 million this season, was a smart play. The Cubs also got Jaye Chapman in that deal, and he's more of a flier pickup who has averaged almost 10 strikeouts per nine innings in the Minors and might get a chance in the big league bullpen this year. For Soto, they got another potential bullpen or back-end rotation piece in Double-A right-hander Jake Brigham. And the Dempster trade? After nearly landing a highly touted arm in Randall Delgado from the Braves, the Cubs had to settle for two Class A guys from the Rangers. That's where Dempster's decision-making loomed large. Christian Villanueva has hit for average and shown a little pop, so he could stick at third base, and Kyle Hendricks has a plus changeup and throws strikes. But it will be a long while before either can accurately be assessed. So it is with the Theo-era Cubs. They have a couple of nice building blocks in Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, high hopes for Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters, and they'll have plenty of payroll wiggle room if they want to get frisky in free agency. But they are still a long way away from where they want to be as a ballclub. The Deadline got them incrementally closer.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.