The Rundown: Theo Told You a Trade Like This Was Coming, Minding Maddon’s Message

You’ve probably heard by now that the Cubs made a little trade last night. Because of the late nature of the deal, it’s understandable if you’re still trying to chew on things and figure out exactly what went down. If you’re interested, we have a little more on the deal and the players involved, not to mention a post on what makes Justin Wilson so valuable. You could even learn more about what the Cubs gave up in Isaac Paredes.

That’s all well and good, but what I want to look at here is the fact that Theo Epstein told us exactly what the Cubs were going to do ahead of the deadline. He laid out the strategy just before the first game of the second half, which immediately followed their trade for Jose Quintana.

The goal of the farm system is to get your players to the big league level so that they can win a world championship and take some of your prospects and trade them for big league players so you can win championships. Theo Epstein

“I think it’s an important two weeks,” Epstein said. “If we can get hot and start to play the way that we know that we’re capable of, that probably puts us in a little more aggressive posture trying to maximize all 25 spots on the roster, maybe try to do some things just for this year.”

In a subsequent interview the 670 The Score’s Mully and Hanley, the Cubs’ baseball boss took things a step further and made sure everyone what aware of exactly what the farm system is there to do.

“I kind of laugh when people start to criticize the state of the farm system because the entire goal of a farm system is not to win Midwest League championships or Southern League championships or PCL championships,” Epstein explained. “The goal of the farm system is to get your players to the big league level so that they can win a world championship and take some of your prospects and trade them for big league players so you can win championships.”

Epstein and Jed Hoyer don’t broadcast every single strategic move they’re planning, but they’re quite transparent when it comes to what they’re looking to do. In making this trade, the Cubs shored up two areas — bullpen and backup catcher — that they saw as weaknesses heading down the stretch. The relief corps has been good and Victor Caratini has been more than adequate (he even hit his first MLB homer in Sunday’s win), but there’s a difference in beating up on mediocre teams and winning in the playoffs.

In Justin Wilson, the Cubs have an inexpensive lefty reliever who is both comfortable and capable in high-leverage situations. Alex Avila gives them the veteran backstop to spell Willson Contreras and work with the rotation. Because he’s blocked for the foreseeable future, Jeimer Candelario was a small price to pay in exchange for those upgrades. Isaac Paredes, on the other hand, stings a little more.

Talent isn’t everything, though, and it’s important to remember that these players are much more than just stats and scouting reports. Given their focus on character and makeup (and there have been painfully obvious exceptions, but I’m speaking here primarily of development), the Cubs are taking into account far more than just what we can see from a player in terms of production. Take that for what it’s worth, but there could be more to the team being willing to part with certain prospects beyond just what they see as a big return.

Maddon sends message

The Cubs went into Sunday’s rubber game with a lineup missing a lot of its thunder and lightning. Anthony Rizzo was scratched with a stiff back and several free-swinging sluggers were sitting for what might best be described as a learning exercise.

With Javy Baez, Ian Happ, and Kyle Schwarber looking on from the bench, the Cubs toiled through the first several innings before finally breaking through with the kind of timely hitting that has been absent these last couple games. More than the timeliness of it, though, it was about Cubs hitters being willing to take what was given to them by the pitcher.

“You got to force pitchers to get us out in the strike zone and not outside of the strike zone,” Joe Maddon said after the win. “That, to me, is the championship-caliber offensive mentality.”

We’ve seen Happ navigate the kind of stomach-churning peaks and valleys that could provide the blueprint for Six Flags’ next thrill ride. Schwarber has already gone through a demotion and has actually been much better since coming back, though he has chased a few pitches here and there. But while they can be lumped in with the group of bad boys at whom Maddon was wagging his finger, it’s clear who the ringleader is here.

Baez has so much potential and is so good when he’s right that it makes it all the more frustrating when he just goes up there hacking. Dialed in, he’s a disruptive force of nature. In swing mode, he’s like watching a severe thunderstorm warning that doesn’t even result in overcast skies.

Friday’s monster home run off the window of a suite in deep left was fun to watch, but it wasn’t necessarily indicative of any real course-correction on Javy’s part.

“Pitchers throw homers more than hitters hit ‘em,” Maddon explained. “My point is, you can do that once in a while if the pitcher makes a mistake. But for the most part, major-league pitchers are able to throw the ball where they want to.”

After the first two batters in the 6th grounded out, the Cubs put together three consecutive hits to push across the game’s first run. Facing a full count and with a runner on third, Addison Russell got a little overzealous and began to offer at a slow curve. Recognizing his mistake mid-swing, Russell managed to hold his bat back in order to meet the breaking ball and flip it out to center to score another run.

It was a perfect example of what Maddon was talking about when he lamented the recent dearth of “opposite-field, situational hitting.” The Cubs played add-on with a pair of home runs in subsequent innings, but it was the two-out rally that really sparked the offense.

They’re going to need that kind of approach as they embark on a stretch of games that should offer a little more resistance than what they’ve seen for the most part in the second half.

More news and notes

  • There’s not much happening on the Yu Darvish front, though the Indians are reportedly in the mix
  • The Rockies acquired catcher Jonathan Lucroy for a PTBNL
  • MLB Trade Rumors has your Top 25 Deadline Day candidates
  • Reminder that John Baker Day tickets are still available
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