A busy month ended quietly for the Cubs as Theo Epstein’s front office didn’t make a deal in the final minutes before Wednesday’s non-waiver deadline.
Counting down to the 3 p.m. deadline, there was a sense in the clubhouse that closer Kevin Gregg and outfielder Nate Schierholtz could be on the move. The Cubs also got hits on lefty reliever James Russell, outfielder David DeJesus, swingman Carlos Villanueva and catcher Dioner Navarro. But at a time when the entire industry overvalues prospects, no contending team would meet their asking prices.
Overall, those pieces still make sense for the 2014 team. Schierholtz and Russell are arbitration-eligible, while the Cubs hold a $6.5 million club option on DeJesus for next season. The versatile Villanueva, who signed a two-year, $10 million deal last winter, will fit somewhere on next year’s pitching staff.
As general manager Jed Hoyer said: “In some ways, it feels like it makes our winter potentially a little easier.”
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So maybe by Year 3 of the rebuild, the questions about another summer selloff won’t start as soon as pitchers and catchers report to Arizona?
“I hope you guys aren’t asking me that when we’re in the new facility in six months,” Hoyer said. “You can never promise what position you’re going to be in going forward. I would never say we’re not going to be sellers again. (But) I do feel a lot better.
“As an organization, we have a lot more talent now than we did certainly 12 months ago. I think you can start to see where the pieces fit in. The 2014 season is not going to be about a lot of young players breaking camp with the team.”
[RELATED: DeJesus sees Epstein's plan coming into focus]
The Cubs jumped this market by dealing pitcher Scott Feldman to the Baltimore Orioles on July 2 and have already seen returns from setup guy Pedro Strop and potential rotation piece Jake Arrieta. They cashed in Matt Garza’s final 12 or 13 starts before free agency for four or five prospects from the Texas Rangers system on July 22. A perfect storm moved $136 million man Alfonso Soriano to the New York Yankees in a deal announced on July 26.
There was none of the anxiety inside the Clark Street headquarters the Cubs felt last year, when Garza was injured and Ryan Dempster hung around the “Golden Tee” arcade game and tried to use his no-trade rights to steer a deal toward the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“We intentionally moved the market forward a little bit with our guys and I’m glad we did,” Hoyer said. “Strategically, it’s a lot easier. (There are) a lot calmer conversations. Sometimes earlier in the month, teams are a little bit more specific about the players they ask for – they want one player in particular.
“Sometimes at the deadline, people are all over the place and involved in tons of different things and have their hands in a lot of different pots. That can make making deals more difficult.”
This month the Cubs also traded for international pool money so they could be aggressive with what they judged to be a strong class. They swapped designated-for-assignment relievers with the Dodgers, and Matt Guerrier can be functional here in a way that Carlos Marmol could not anymore. They dealt extra outfielder Scott Hairston to the Washington Nationals for 21-year-old Ivan Pineyro, who on Wednesday pitched six scoreless innings for advanced Class-A Daytona.
[MORE: Cubs will make extending Samardzija a priority]
After dancing with super-agent Scott Boras, the Cubs also signed No. 2 overall pick Kris Bryant this month, giving him a $6.7 million bonus. Junior Lake is now wearing Sammy Sosa’s old number and has taken over Soriano’s old locker. Javier Baez is nearing 30 homers with a month left in his minor-league season.
Jorge Soler could play in the Arizona Fall League. The guess is big names from the 2012 draft – outfielder Albert Almora and pitcher Pierce Johnson – won’t have to repeat levels and should move relatively quickly through the system.
“Next year some of those guys will still be developing, but they’re getting towards that stage where they would be in the conversation for our future,” Hoyer said. “Right now, you can’t just put those guys in stone going forward. I hope that we can be sitting here in a year from now and those guys are having a lot of success in Double-A and Triple-A, because that’s really more of a barometer of how close they are.
“Selling conversations are difficult because (you’re) giving up an important piece on your team and in your clubhouse. That’s not really a conversation any of us want to engage in, (but) we do it because it’s the right thing.”
So much can happen between now and July 31, 2014. But the summer selloff doesn’t have to be an annual tradition.