All throughout the past week, there was feverish excitement in Chicago--who would be coming? Who would be going? Would the Cubs part with some of their young talent to grab a top-line pitcher like Cole Hamels and thus cement one of the more intriguing storylines in recent memory--acquiring the pitcher who no-hit them and ended their 7,920-game streak of getting at least one hit in a game, the longest in baseball history? Would the White Sox trade Jeff Samardzija, and whom would they get in return?
So much talk, so little action. The Cubs ended up making two small deals on Friday, acquiring Dan Haren from the Marlins for two prospects who were so good they're not even mentioned in the Cubs top 30. They also received Tommy Hunter from the Orioles for 4A outfielder Junior Lake. While these deals pale in comparison to the blockbusters pulled off by the Blue Jays, Royals, and Astros, it's possible these acquisitions could play important roles as the Cubs fight to stay in the playoff race.
The Cubs haven't had problems with starting pitching, ranking in the top five for most of the season. Here's how that occurred:
Unfortunately, modern baseball rotations include five starters, and this shows the five (yikes!) pitchers who have filled that fifth starter role:
Through a mixture of injury and ineptitude, every fifth day has been an adventure, and not in a good way. This is fairly common throughout baseball, since the number of teams with five starters who have made at least 20 starts is quite small--in fact, it's zero. Two teams, the Cubs and Pirates, have four starters with at least 20 starts, and another ten have three. In short, who needs a fifth starter? All of baseball.
The best way to acquire a fifth starter is to obtain someone like Cole Hamels (my choice), Johnny Cueto, or David Price and push everyone down the list. For whatever reason, this isn't the path the Cubs chose, so now it's time to see if Dan Haren can be the savior du jour. He has the pedigree--he's a three-time All-Star and received Cy Young votes two different years. He had a decent record with the Marlins this year--on a superficial level. He's 7-7 on a losing team with a 3.42 ERA, putting him in the top half of baseball. Oh, but we're beyond such archaic measures--his 4.58 FIP is 14th-worst in baseball and 25 percent worse than the rest of the league. He's been doing it with mirrors--and a declining strikeout rate:
There's no surprise here since he's 34, but a guy who used to pitch well over 200 innings a year hasn't approached that number since 2011. He hasn't had significant injury issues, so it's a matter of not being as effective as he used to be.
Somehow, the role of a fifth starter has gained credence as a real thing. They have their own chapter in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and are as real as unicorns. Haren may not have much left, but so far this year, peripherals be darned, he's had more than the five-pack the Cubs have been trotting out every fifth day. Consider the alternative--Dallas Beeler started a game last Tuesday in which he lasted 1.1 innings and had me checking bus and flight schedules to Des Moines.
The Tommy Hunter deal is a little more intriguing because the reliever needs are very real and have cost the Cubs two games in the past week or so alone. On July 24th, Jason Motte entered the game in the ninth to close out a game against the Phillies and promptly gave up a home run to Jeff Francoeur to tie the game. James Russell and my new BFF, Rafael Soriano, each gave up a run in the 10th, and poof, defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory.
Ah, but Mr. Soriano was just getting warmed up--in the same game that Dallas Beeler had dug the hole, Soriano deepened it by giving up two runs in the eighth inning, prompting this tweet from me:
" D " is for Designated, or slated to be " F " is for For, for what, we'll see " A " is for Assignment, Soriano, that's thee— Scott Lindholm (@ScottLindholm) July 29, 2015
The Cubs' relievers have generally been effective, but with 15 blown saves any help is appreciated. I held out hope that the rumors I heard regarding deals with the Padres would center around Craig Kimbrel, but that wasn't to be. I have no clue if Tommy Hunter is the answer, but it looks like he has heat and can hit the strike zone.
A brief note on the acquisition of Junior Lake by the Orioles--it's still an open question if he can be an everyday player, but he sure had a nice start to his career--this chart ranks players since 2000 in their first seven games by OPS:
Everyone remembers Yasiel Puig's fast start, but Lake came along only about a month after Puig's debut. Lake can really only play left, and the Cubs have about 15 players to choose from there, so a change of scenery, along with the chance to DH occasionally, is probably the best thing for Lake.
For every blockbuster like the Price, Hamels, Tulowitzki, or Cueto deals, there are around ten that elicit little, if any, buzz. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't, but rarely do seasons come down to deals made at the end of July. The ways teams scout, draft, and develop their talent leads them to be more cautious in cavalierly discarding players and chasing rainbows (note--apparently, this doesn't apply to the Padres).
As a Cubs fan, I'll say they won the trade season by not sacrificing any of their young core talent like Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora, or Billy McKinney, let alone Kris Bryant or Addison Russell, for a rental or a player past his prime. Dan Haren could go 10-0 down the stretch, or he could fall apart. Tommy Hunter could become the established closer (he saved 11 games for the Orioles in 2014), or he could become Rafael Soriano 2.0 and cause me to come up with more original tweets. Either way, the Cubs showed smarts by not selling prime assets for a chance to be the visiting team in a coin-flip game. Sometimes the best trades are the ones that aren't made.
Life-long Cubs fan Scott Lindholm lives in Davenport, IA. Follow him on Twitter at your own risk @ScottLindholm.