Coming off a very disappointing and frustrating 2003 season, Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein signed top free agent pitcher Curt Schilling, with the sole intent to get over the hump an FINALLY win a World Series.
The 2004 season wasn’t going as planned. Heading into the trade deadline, something was wrong with Epstein’s pre-season super-team. They were hovering at or near .500 for most of the season, and on July 31st had a record of 56-45. Epstein knew something was wrong with his team, and that he needed to do something bold. He decided to make a trade, the kind of trade that can end GM’s careers if the move backfires.
Epstein traded popular shortstop Nomar Garciappara. The net result was Garciappara in a Cubs uniform, and better defender Orlando Cabrara, now manning shortstop for the BoSox. Also in the deal, the Red Sox bolstered their defense at first baseman, getting Doug Mientkiewicz. The result: a 42-19 record down the stretch, and the first World Series title in 86 years.
Fast forward 13 years; “Young Theo” isn’t so young anymore. He’s moved onto greener pastures and has led his second “cursed” team to a World Series title. He’s even been on the cover of Fortune magazine, given their title as world’s greatest leader. He’s had a pretty good run. But what drives him more than anything, is winning. And his Cubs haven’t been doing much of it this season.
As we enter the second week of July, the Cubs are looking up at the Milwaukee Brewers in the standings, and out of the playoff picture if the season ended today. They are under 500, with a 41-42 record, and are 3.5 games out of first place. You’d expect the team to have a hangover in April, and maybe even into May, but by Memorial Day, you’d think manager Joe Maddon would have the team out of their funk. The entire team has underperformed compared to last season, and the pitching has been the main culprit.
John Lester is sitting at 5-5, John Lackey has an ERA over 5.00, Kyle Hendricks is 4-3, and staff “ace” Jake Arrieta is only 8-6 with a 4.33 ERA. To vault over Milwaukee, Epstein knows he has to bolster his pitching staff and he’s proven he’s not afraid to make a bold move to win. He’s also proven he’s willing to trade an extremely popular player to accomplish success.
Unfortunately for Epstein, with the new wild card format, more team are still in the hunt for a playoff spot, which makes fewer teams “sellers” at this point in the season. But, fortunately for Epstein, there is one team who will definitely be sellers, and who love to wheel. Theo is about to get in touch with old friends and old trading partner, Billy Beane of the Oakland A’s.
The A’s have just what the Cubs need, a top starter in Sonny Gray. Gray has two more years of arbitration, before he becomes a free agent in 2020. They also have lefty specialist Sean Doolittle, who’s due $4.38 million next season, which for the A’s, is more or less a salary dump.
But what do the Cubs have that the A’s would deem worthy of a legitimate top shelf starter and lefty specialist? I’ve already shown that Theo’s not afraid to make a bold move, or trade away a very popular player. So it’s time for Kyle Schwarber to say goodbye to the Windy City.
It was just last year when Schwarber became a folk hero for Chicago last season, coming back from a season long injury, just in time to make a huge impact in the World Series. At just 24 years old, this was supposed to be a long term love affair, and he was supposed to continue on this season where he left off last season. But, in 222 ABs he’s only batting .171 with an OPS of .673. He has belted 12 HRs, but has fanned an alarming 75 times. And, it’s gotten so bad the Cubs have had no choice but to send him down to Triple-A to get his swing back. He’s supposed to be back by the All Star game for the second half.
He’s the type of player Beane loves, as he’s young and under team control for many years. Schwarber isn’t even arbitration eligible until 2019, and thus isn’t eligible for free agency until 2022. On a team which already has Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber is expendable. Gray can slot in nicely behind Lester and Arrieta, which stretches their rotation perfectly, while Doolittle is the ideal, left handed set-up man for closer Wade Davis.
At this point in his career, Epstein doesn’t have to worry about his future, or his legacy, so trading Schwarber is easier than trading Garciappara was, but it’s still a bold move. One thing’s for sure and that’s that Theo Epstein is never afraid to be bold. In order for the Cubs to repeat as Champions, he’s going to have to be.
I remember in “Moneyball” where Brad Pitt as Billy Beane asks Jonah Hill’s character and asks him the only question that really matters: ”Does this deal make us a better team?” This deal will undoubtedly make the Cubs a better team.