Hector Rondon saw this coming and understood why the Cubs would target Aroldis Chapman, not letting the trade rumors dent his confidence, even if it would mean losing his job in the ninth inning.
Rondon had a big smile on his face when reporters swarmed his locker inside U.S. Cellular Field’s visiting clubhouse on Monday afternoon, wanting to get his immediate reaction after the Cubs finalized a blockbuster trade with the New York Yankees.
“Everything’s about the team,” Rondon said before a 5-4 walk-off loss to the White Sox. “I know the front office did a really good job to get Chapman. I think if you do have a chance to get that guy, you better take it."
President of baseball operations Theo Epstein felt exactly the same way, weighing Chapman’s all-world talent and character concerns and giving up the organization’s best prospect (Class-A shortstop Gleyber Torres), a major-league-caliber pitcher (Adam Warren) and two minor-league outfielders (Billy McKinney and Rashad Crawford) for a better chance to win the World Series this year.
“Hector’s done a phenomenal job for us and will continue to do so,” Epstein said. “The one thing I wanted to communicate to Hector was that at no point did we say we were worried about Hector Rondon (or) we need to go out and get a new closer.
“Instead, the question we asked ourselves was: How can we get even better so that we can put ourselves in a position to get to the playoffs and try to win three postseason series?
“We feel like this trade made us better because of the importance of having three or four shutdown relievers in the postseason.”
Success stories during the rebuilding years like Rondon – who gradually developed from a Rule 5 pick into a strong closer – allowed the Cubs to confidently make a game-changing trade like this. Rondon converted 18 of 22 save chances before Chapman’s arrival, posting a 1.95 ERA with 48 strikeouts and only five walks in 37 innings.
“I know I did a really good job with my role,” Rondon said. “I don’t care if we’re in the eighth or seventh (inning) – what only matters to me is to come into the game and do my job. It’s only about the win.”
For the second day in a row, Anthony Rizzo put the Cubs on his back.
Only this time, the result wasn't a win for his team.
The National League MVP frontrunner tied the game in the ninth inning, lifting a two-strike single into left field to score Dexter Fowler.
But Cubs reliever Mike Montgomery couldn't hold on, letting the winning run strut in on a walk-off single from Tyler Saladino in a 5-4 White Sox victory in front of 39,510 fans at U.S. Cellular Field Monday night.
Montgomery — acquired last week from the Seattle Mariners — has now given up two runs and recorded just two outs in a Cubs uniform.
He admitted he needs to be smarter in that situation in the ninth inning and also assured Chicago reporters his confidence isn't faltering despite a bad start with a new club.
"No, I felt really good today," Montgomery said. "I think it's really just a couple of pitches that I was trying to go up in the zone and just being a little bit smarter about. You gotta have a short memory in here.
"It's obviously frustrating. It's the last thing I want to do — come here and not do well right away. I'm not gonna lose any confidence, though. I'm gonna go out there and trust my stuff and just kinda learn from it and move on and be ready for tomorrow."
The Cubs trailed all game as the White Sox touched up Jake Arrieta for a run in the third and then Todd Frazier drilled a three-run shot into center field with two outs in the sixth.
"It's obvious I just need to execute better there," Arrieta said. "I threw him a first-pitch cutter and he threw the bat in the stands, I think. Just needed to be more expanded with that pitch; it was middle-middle.
"He's in a situation where he's expecting balls in the strike zone. You gotta tip your cap. He put a good swing on it. Just really came down to that pitch and not being able to execute the way I needed to."
After Frazier's homer, Javy Baez immediately responded and cut the Sox lead in half with a two-run shot in the top of the seventh following Miguel Montero's double.
Baez later started the rally in the ninth with a double down the right field line before promptly stealing third and then scoring on Dexter Fowler's single off Jose Abreu's glove.
Fowler advanced to third on Kris Bryant's single, but Bryant was thrown out trying to stretch his hit into a double, setting the stage for Rizzo's temporary heroics.
In the bottom of the ninth, Montgomery allowed a leadoff single to J.B. Shuck, who moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. Saladino then came through with a single up the middle, which Matt Szczur bobbled, ensuring there was no play at the plate.
Arrieta finished with four runs allowed on five hits and a pair of walks in six innings, following up his strong outing against the New York Mets last week with another up-and-down start.
But Cubs manager Joe Maddon really saw just one bad pitch from Arrieta.
"He pitched really well," Maddon said. "Six innings and gave up very few hits. Very light contact. And he gave up one home run.
"At the end of the day, man, we lost the game, but you cannot start denigrating people for one pitch or the fact that somebody didn't get a hit at the end. We played really well and they just beat us today on a home run and they made some defensive plays.
"I really think it's important always to truly evaluate what you saw and not just because you lose, denigrate people because of that. We actually played really well today and [Arrieta] pitched well."
Within three minutes of the press release officially announcing the Aroldis Chapman trade with the New York Yankees on Monday afternoon, the Cubs sent another e-mail to their media distribution list, issuing statements from the superstar closer and chairman Tom Ricketts that didn’t really say much about the business decision to look beyond a domestic violence suspension.
But the Chapman rollout had to address an ugly incident from his personal history, how the Yankees acquired him over the winter from the Cincinnati Reds at such a discount, but didn’t deploy him in a real game until May 9.
That’s why president of baseball operations Theo Epstein answered questions for more than 33 minutes, sitting in U.S. Cellular Field’s visiting dugout before a 5-4 walk-off loss to the White Sox, trying to explain the due diligence, moral calculus and win-now mentality.
“I don’t feel like we compromised integrity in making this move,” Epstein said. “We approached it as thoroughly as we did – and gave it as much careful consideration as we did and had a genuine debate about it for weeks – because we wanted to make sure we preserve our integrity as an organization.”
Chapman released statements in English and Spanish, thanking the Yankees for “trusting and supporting me” and acknowledging the 30-game punishment he served this season after a domestic dispute inside his South Florida home on Oct. 30, 2015, becoming a test case for Major League Baseball’s new policy.
Chapman was accused of choking his girlfriend and reportedly fired eight gunshots inside his garage, though the Broward County State Attorney’s Office ultimately decided to not file criminal charges.
“I regret that I did not exercise better judgment,” Chapman said, “and for that I am truly sorry. Looking back, I feel I have learned from this matter and have grown as a person. My girlfriend and I have worked hard to strengthen our relationship, to raise our daughter together and would appreciate the opportunity to move forward without revisiting an event we consider part of our past.
“Out of respect for my family, I will not comment any further on this matter.”
Chapman is expected to join the team on Tuesday and face the media on the South Side. MLB allowed Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and Ricketts – who had already consulted with commissioner Rob Manfred – to speak with Chapman over the phone on Monday before the Cubs and Yankees formalized the trade.
“I shared with him the high expectations we set for our players and staff both on and off the field,” Ricketts said. “Aroldis indicated he is comfortable with meeting those expectations.”
Of course, Chapman would be on his best behavior in a contract year – and will be highly motivated in his final months before cashing in as a free agent – but he impressed people around the Yankees with his demeanor, dominant performances and ability to handle New York.
“We’re going to welcome him in here with open arms,” said catcher David Ross, who got a glowing scouting report on Chapman from Yankee leader/good friend Brian McCann. “I don’t like to prejudge guys on their past.
“We’re excited to get him and give him a clean slate. Hopefully, he has a phenomenal time here in Chicago.”
If the Cubs didn’t acquire Chapman, they feared he might have landed with a contender like the Washington Nationals or San Francisco Giants and blown their hitters away in October with 105-mph fastballs. This became the point in the Wrigleyville rebuild to take the risk – and maybe tone down some of the rhetoric about how the Cubs do things “The Right Way” and are such great neighbors and so family friendly.
“Those of you who have been around us for five years know that character is a major consideration in every transaction we make,” Epstein said. “That’s why we spent so much time investigating and talking to him. In fact, I have never believed more strongly in the character that we have in this clubhouse and at our core as an organization.
“I think that allows us to maybe be that forum for players who’ve been through some things and are looking to grow. He was granted a second chance by Major League Baseball and by the Yankees.
“With our culture – and the guys we have in there – maybe we’re good for him to continue that process. We are not sacrificing our integrity in any way or compromising or completely turning our back on (what we believe). I understand that people are going to see it different ways (and) I respect that.”
This is business, and this transaction will be judged on whether or not the Cubs win the World Series this year.
“I cannot wait to take the mound at Wrigley Field,” Chapman said, “and look forward to helping my teammates deliver a championship to Chicago.”