MESA, Ariz. – Cubs executives are driven by a certain logic that makes it possible to follow the playbook. It’s colder, less emotional, more predictable. You saw it as soon as Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took over at Clark and Addison.
The Sean Marshall trade just before Christmas 2011 figures to be a blueprint, if certain players get healthy and the flip-able assets perform during the first half of this season. The Cubs cashed in one season of a very good setup guy for more than a decade of club control with Travis Wood and Dave Sappelt.
The Cincinnati Reds aren’t going to lose the trade, because they are in win-now mode, locking up Marshall with a $16.5 million extension through 2015 and building a powerful bullpen around Aroldis Chapman and his 100 mph heat. After winning 97 games last year, it’s World Series or bust for Dusty Baker’s team.
But the Cubs are starting to see returns with Wood being slotted as the No. 3 starter and taking on even more importance in a rotation thinned out by injuries. Sappelt – the Southern League’s MVP in 2010 – has won a bench job and can play all over the outfield. Both players will be in their age-26 seasons.
“That was the plan,” Sappelt said. “I was young and I was always putting up numbers and playing (good) defense. The capability’s there. I think Wood has the stuff, too. He always dominated coming up in the minors.
“He used to throw 97 mph, believe it or not. Like he used to throw flames, man, and then he started throwing cutters and all that.”
After a rough spring last year, Wood had looked sharp in the Cactus League before going four innings and giving up four runs on seven hits and four walks in Monday’s 9-3 loss to the San Francisco Giants at HoHoKam Stadium.
After going 6-13 with a 4.27 ERA and accounting for 156 innings, Wood didn’t want to talk about building off the lessons learned during a 101-loss season.
“We’re not looking at last year,” the lefty said. “This is a fresh year, new guys, fresh faces. We’re fired up for the season.”
At 5-foot-9, Sappelt already has the nickname Baker gave him: “He calls me ‘Mighty Mite,’ because whatever I’m listed at, I’m probably not that height and I can hit a ball pretty far.”
In their own way, Wood and Sappelt are symbols for “The Cubs Way.”
In their first offseason, Epstein and Hoyer imported low-maintenance veterans – think David DeJesus – on value contracts to help restore clubhouse order and bridge the team to the future. That set the blueprint for this winter.
They took calculated gambles on medical risks (Paul Maholm and Ian Stewart), flipping one asset by the trade deadline and getting burned by the Colorado Rockies in the other deal. They predicted Andrew Cashner wouldn’t stay healthy enough to max out as a starter, so they shipped him to the San Diego Padres for Anthony Rizzo, who could be their first baseman for the next decade.
The arbitration offers to Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena were formalities. Re-signing two 30-something corner infielders when they could pocket the draft picks? As Ramirez might say: No chance, papi.
The Cubs used those supplemental picks to restock their system, grabbing Missouri State University right-hander Pierce Johnson (No. 43) and Paul Blackburn (No. 56), who out of high school has drawn comparisons to Brad Radke.
All this is supposed to lead up to the day when the Cubs are in go-for-it mode and have enough high-leverage situations where a multimillion-dollar setup guy is a necessity and not a luxury item.
“It could turn out to be a good trade,” Sappelt said. “I think it already is a good trade. I’ll get to face Marshall a lot. We’ll see.”