Looking back on the Cubs' deadline deals

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Looking back on the Cubs' deadline deals

The 2012 Cubs could have had a representative on the AL-pennant-winning Tigers, as utilityman and lefty-masher Jeff Baker was dealt to Detroit at the trading deadline.

The only thing is, Baker was then dealt to the Braves roughly a month after the initial trade, and finished the year in Atlanta.

As it was, none of the Cubs' deals at the deadline had any impact on the MLB postseason landscape and in fact, both teams (Rangers, Braves) that wound up with the five former Cubs lost in their respective Wild Card play-in games.

Let's take a look at how the ex-Cubs fared on their new teams, and how the stable of young talent the Cubs received in return finished out the season:

Ex-Cubs

Ryan Dempster, TEX

Dempster put up a 5.09 ERA and 1.44 WHIP over 12 starts in Texas, but did compile a 7-3 record with 70 strikeouts in 69 innings. He didn't appear in the Rangers' lone playoff game, but he was a big reason why Texas had to participate in the one-game, winner-take-all matchup with the Orioles. Dempster allowed five runs on six hits and a walk in just three innings to the A's on the final day of the season, allowing Oakland to complete their miraculous run and capture the AL West.

What's next: Dempster is a free agent. Don't be surprised if he signs with the Dodgers, the team he originally wanted to be traded to.

Geovany Soto, TEX

Soto struggled during his time with the Cubs to start the season (.199 AVG, .631 OPS) and became expendable with the emergence of Welington Castillo and Steve Clevenger. The change of scenery didn't help the veteran catcher, as he actually hit a little worse in Texas (.196 AVG, .591 OPS). Soto played in 47 games for the Rangers, including the playoff game, in which he went 0-for-2 with a strikeout.

What's next: Soto is entering his third and final year of arbitration. With Mike Napoli currently a free agent, the Rangers may very well have interest in bringing Soto back next season.

Paul Maholm, ATL

The veteran southpaw enjoyed arguably his best pro season in 2012, turning in a 9-6 record and 3.74 ERA while with the Cubs. Maholm was even better with the Braves, posting a 3.54 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. It certainly was not his fault Atlanta didn't advance further in the playoffs.

What's next: Maholm has a 6.5 million team option on his contract, which is very affordable for a quality starting pitcher. It would not be shocking to see the Braves pick that option up.

Reed Johnson, ATL

Johnson, a fan favorite as a fourth outfielder and veteran presence while with the Cubs, held the same role in Atlanta, playing largely against left-handers. He hit .270.305.320, a rather significant drop from the .302.355.444 line he put up with the Cubs in 2012. He did not play in the one-game playoff.

What's next: Johnson is a free agent and provides value for a discounted price. There likely won't be a fit for him with the Cubs in 2013, but that could always change.

Jeff Baker, DETATL

Baker appeared in 15 games for the Tigers (about once every other contest), and struggled to find his groove, hitting just .200 with a .500 OPS. He was even worse in Atlanta, where he was used primarily as a pinch-hitter, posting a .105 AVG and .255 OPS. He also did not appear in the one-game playoff.

What's next: Baker just finished his third and final year of arbitration and is set to become a free agent for the first time in his career. Will sign on somewhere as a utility player, getting at-bats mostly against lefties.

Prospects

Jaye Chapman, RHP

Chapman, 25, is a former 16th-round draft pick coming over in the MaholmJohnson deal. He appeared in 10 games in the minors before making his MLB debut in September. He performed OK in 14 games down the stretch with a 3.75 ERA, 1.50 WHIP and 12 whiffs in 12 innings. Chapman boasts an above-average changeup, but may rely on it a bit too much.

What's next: Chapman has a chance to make the big-league bullpen with a strong showing in spring training, and will head back to Triple-A Iowa if that doesn't work out.

Arodys Vizcaino, RHP

Vizcaino, acquired from the Braves, was sidelined all season with Tommy John surgery, but should be good to go come spring. He turns 22 in November and has been ranked as one of the Top 100 prospects by Baseball America for three straight years. The Cubs have already said they will handle Vizcaino with care next year, and because of that, he may wind up in Triple-A to start the season. But he will surely get some time on the big-league roster at some point in 2013, though it remains to be seen whether it will be as a starter or reliever.

Jacob Brigham, RHP

Acquired in the Soto deal, Brigham made just two starts with the Cubs to end 2012, both for Double-A Tennessee. He got lit up, surrendering nine runs on 11 hits and four walks in just 3.2 innings. Brigham, 24, has never climbed above Double-A and has a 4.49 career ERA, though he provides value as a starting pitching option in a Cubs system that is decidedly shallow in that area.

What's next: Brigham will start 2013 in the minor leagues, pitching at either Tennessee or Iowa.

Kyle Hendricks, RHP

Hendricks came to the Cubs in the Dempster deal and the 22-year-old righty finished the season making five appearances -- four starts -- for High-A Daytona. He was 1-0 with a 4.24 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in those five games and finished the season at 6-8 with a 2.99 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in 25 games (24 starts) overall. Hendricks has not been considered one of the top prospects in the game, but is just two years into his professional career.

What's next: The former 8th-round draft pick may start the season at High-A Daytona in 2013, but should wind up getting some experience in Double-A.

Christian Villanueva, 3B

Villanueva was the main piece in the Dempster trade and the 21-year-old third baseman has impressed some -- he was voted the No. 100 prospect by Baseball America prior to the 2012 season -- despite his size (5-foot-11, 160 pounds). Villanueva hit .250.337.452 in 25 games (95 plate appearances) at High-A Daytona with the Cubs after the trade and finished the season at .279.353.427 overall. He has 53 steals and 33 homers in his minor-league career, but appears to be more of a gap hitter at this stage in his career.

What's next: Villanueva won't turn 22 until the middle of next season and the native of Guadalajara, Mexico may get a promotion to Double-A Tennessee at some point in the 2013 season, though he will likely start in Daytona to get more seasoning.

Marcelo Carreno, RHP

Ah, the good, old PTBNL (player to be named later). Carreno came over to the Cubs in mid-October to conclude the Jeff Baker deal with the Tigers. The 21-year-old righty has 84 career starts with a 3.70 ERA and 1.23 WHIP. He put together a very solid 2012 season for Single-A West Michigan, posting a 9-8 record, 3.23 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 27 starts.

What's next: The Venezuelan righty may start 2013 with the newly-acquired Kane County Cougars (Single-A) or may get a promotion to High-A Daytona. Depending on his development, Carreno could finish next year with Double-A Tennessee, but that seems overly optimistic.

Noise around QB Mark Sanchez misses bigger, far more important goal for Bears ’17 offseason

Noise around QB Mark Sanchez misses bigger, far more important goal for Bears ’17 offseason

The tumult around the Bears quarterback position this offseason – signing Mike Glennon, cutting Jay Cutler, not signing Brian Hoyer, now signing Mark Sanchez – was to be expected. (Well, not all the brouhaha around Sanchez; if there has ever been more hyperventilating around the arriving backup quarterback, it’s escaping my recollections of a quarter-century on the beat.)

All of that, and a lot of the noise around Mike Glennon is really missing a larger point. A couple, really.

GM Ryan Pace established fixing the quarterback situation as a top priority, something it has been just about since Jim McMahon left, with the exception of a few Jay Cutler years. Doing that to any meaningful degree with the castoff options available in free agency or via trades wasn’t ever going to happen. What Pace has done with the quarterback situation, however, is more than a little intriguing.

The quarterback additions and subtractions, coupled with also suggest a draft plan far from locked in on a quarterback. The signings of Glennon and Sanchez don’t mean the Bears have solved their quarterback position, but it does mean the Bears have positioned themselves with the distinct option of NOT taking a quarterback – this year.

But here’s the bigger point.

Even with the optimum quarterback solution unavailable – Pace arguably did go best-available in his and the coaches’ minds with Glennon and Sanchez, all derision aside – Pace’s goal needs to be building a team that can reach a high playoff level regardless of quarterback.

Meaning: defense. And while the 2017 free agent and draft classes did not offer must-have quarterbacks in most evaluations, there are those elite-level defensive talents, and every indication is that the Bears will look there, in the draft, and should be. It had that feeling when the Bears, with ample, money to spend, backed away from day one free-agency runs at a couple of pricey defensive backs. The Bears simply think they can do better for less in the draft.

A perspective: With a defense at its levels during the Brian Urlacher era, the Bears could reach the NFC championship game with what they have at quarterback now. They did, twice, with Rex Grossman and with Cutler. Sanchez got to AFC championship games in each of his first two seasons. The Bears reached a Super Bowl with Rex Grossman as their quarterback. They went 13-3 in 2001 with a solid-but-unspectacular Jim Miller as their quarterback. They reached the 2005 playoffs with Kyle Orton as their starter most of that year, and should have been in the 2008 playoffs with him as well. The Bears reached the NFC championship game in 2010 with Cutler.

There is a common denominator in all of these situations, and it is within Pace’s grasp, and that was an elite defense. Rex Ryan had one with the Jets and Sanchez, Grossman and Orton and Cutler had theirs with Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Mike Brown, Tommie Harris, Charles Tillman, etc.

Forget the quarterback situation for now. Nothing anyone, including Pace, can really do anything about it (other than land possibly Deshaun Watson, based on their turnout at his Pro Day).

But if Pace and his personnel staff do this right, they can lay in the foundation for something elite on defense that will transcend the quarterback, or at least allow the Bears to play more than 16 games in a season even if they do not have a great quarterback. With the Urlacher core defense, the Bears went to postseasons with four different quarterbacks.

The prime directive now for Ryan Pace is to create precisely that model again.

Johnny Oduya feeling better, more up to speed with Blackhawks

Johnny Oduya feeling better, more up to speed with Blackhawks

Perhaps the best thing about the Johnny Oduya trade back to the Blackhawks, for both parties involved, was that Oduya wasn't needed immediately.

It's not that the Blackhawks didn't want the veteran defenseman, who helped them win Cups in 2013 and 2015, back in the lineup as soon as possible. Oduya was coming off an ankle injury, one he re-aggravated and missed about a month when he was with the Dallas Stars. He needed time to fully heal and with the Blackhawks in good shape in the standings and with solid depth at defense, he could.

Now with the playoffs right around the corner, Oduya is feeling more like himself.

Outside of missing two games that were the second halves of back-to-backs, Oduya has been playing steadily since March 9. Oduya's minutes have ranged from around 16 to 21 in games. He said he's now 100 percent healthy from his injury and he's feeling the difference on the ice.

"It makes a big difference," Oduya said on Thursday, prior to facing the Stars for the first time since his trade back to Chicago. "I mean, obviously sometimes you get more or less lucky, depending on what you get and the style of play and what you do or not. Skating is a part of my game I try to use as much as possible to get in good position and try to take away time from the opposition as much as possible.

"Even with battling and things like that, of course it's nice to feel more confident," Oduya added. "In any situation, you're in you want to feel confident on the ice."

The Blackhawks have seen that confidence in previous postseason runs and are looking to see it again in Oduya. Coach Joel Quenneville considers Oduya, "Mr. Reliability."

"You look back at what he delivered for us, not just the regular season, but he's been solid and reliable in the playoffs. He's assumed some important matchups and important minutes," Quenneville said. "Last year, we didn't have him on the back end and watching him this year, it was the perfect fit him coming back."

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The Blackhawks' defensive group hasn't changed much since Oduya's first stint here. The system probably hasn't been altered much, either. Still, Oduya's not taking anything for granted and is trying to get back on the same page quickly.

"Same as the last time I came into a great hockey team and I really just want to get up to speed and up to date as quickly as possible," Oduya said. "Little things that may have changed. I want to fit in as well as I can. That's the idea anyone has coming in late in the year. The guys here make it pretty easy; the coaching staff is familiar with the way I play and helps speed up things a little more."

The Blackhawks are trying to be their best heading into the postseason. So is Oduya. He needed a little extra time to get back to health and he may still need a little time to get back to speed, but he's just about there. 

"I feel pretty good. Of course it's a lot easier when you have guys around you you've seen before, a coaching staff," Oduya said. "It's a work in progress, anyway. I want to be better, I want to evolve with the team and want us to be better, too. It's a work in progress."