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.

For first time since leaving Cuba, White Sox slugger Jose Abreu gets to play father

For first time since leaving Cuba, White Sox slugger Jose Abreu gets to play father

DETROIT — The last three weeks have afforded Jose Abreu and his son lifelong memories, fulfilling moments for a proud father and a bonding experience the White Sox slugger had long wanted to provide.

For the first time since he left Cuba in 2013, Abreu and his family are hosting his son, 5-year-old Dariel, who recently received a five-year travel visa that will allow him to visit his famous father in the United States.

The goal of the month-long visit is simple: Abreu hopes to offer his son a glimpse into why he had to leave Cuba and also to connect with him despite the distance between them. He desires to teach him about life in a new and different culture. And when Dariel returns to Cuba in early September to begin school, Abreu wants his son to understand he had to leave the island nation in order to provide him with better opportunities. The experience has perhaps exceeded Abreu’s expectations and given him a much-needed boost late in the most difficult season of his professional career.

“First and foremost, I want to thank God for the opportunity to be a father,” Abreu said through interpreter Billy Russo. “It's something you can't describe with words. To have the opportunity to bring him in here is good. It's special. It's an opportunity to show him what I do, what is my workplace and how I interact with other people and how the other people try to take care of him, too, and me. That was special. Every single time I get to bring him here it's special because we feel that connection.”

The White Sox slugger wasted no time in sharing the major league experience with his only child, something he longed for after watching other players do the same.

He introduced Dariel to teammates in Miami earlier this month after the boy watched his father play in person for the first time on Aug. 12 at Marlins Park. The pair also has hung out with teammates in the clubhouse before and after certain games, which gave Dariel time to soak up the atmosphere. And of course there was the sacred rite of passage — the postgame trip to the gumball jar.

These experiences, which some teammates might take for granted and few could conceive of, have been sacred to Abreu.

“He has been dreaming of this for a long time,” manager Robin Ventura said. “You can just tell it has picked his spirits up as of late knowing this was going to happen. He’s happy. I can’t imagine (not seeing my kids) — what that is. He’s a great guy and I know he always wants to do the right thing, so this is pretty important to him.”

It’s pretty easy to spot a difference in Abreu since he learned his son had arrived in Miami on Aug. 7. Normally upbeat, Ventura said Abreu had a noticeable “bounce in his step” when he rejoined the team two days later in Kansas City — this even though he was exhausted from flying back and forth across the country to spend the team’s day off with his son in Miami.

Abreu originally left Cuba for the United States in August 2013 when Dariel, who turns 6 in September, was only 2. They were reunited last December when Abreu participated in a Major League Baseball goodwill tour to Cuba.

Ever since he returned from the tour, Abreu wanted to organize a visit to the United States as the first baseman — for now at least — is unable to return to Cuba. He worked with his agent, Diego Bentz, to arrange a visa.

In the meantime, Abreu missed his son.

Back in March, Abreu watched for several minutes as teammate Todd Frazier’s young son ran across the spring training clubhouse to hug his dad. Now that he’s had the same opportunity, Abreu has constantly had a smile on his face.

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Teammate Melky Cabrera said he’s not surprised to find the same Abreu only happier.

Time shared with family around the clubhouse is critical for players given how much time they’re apart from their young children, Cabrera said.

“It's always important to show them where you work, what is the atmosphere of your workplace,” Cabrera said. “But I also think it's important to spend every bit of time with them you can, especially with our schedule.

“It's so special. This is a blessing for him to have the ability to be reunited.

“He's been the same with us. The only difference I can say is he's happier.”

Well, it’s not the only difference — Abreu has hit a ton in the three weeks since he and Dariel were reunited. Entering Monday, Abreu was hitting .343/.397/.557 with four home runs and 13 RBIs in 78 plate appearances.

While he still posted a league-average performance, Abreu’s .770 OPS through Aug. 7 is more than 130 points lower than the .904 OPS he posted through his first two seasons.

Many have contended that this was merely the league adjusting to Abreu. Teams had figured out his approach, and he simply hadn’t figured out how to adjust back. But some of Abreu’s teammates think the uptick in performance is in large part because of his son.

Adam Eaton said the birth of his own son earlier this season has made it easier to go home after an 0-for-4 night because fatherhood has provided him with a different outlook on life.

Eaton doesn’t know for certain that Abreu’s struggles were in part tied to missing his child. But he imagines the situation would weigh on anyone and thinks Abreu has handled it “better than 95 percent of the guys in baseball could.”

“Family is everything to us,” Eaton said. “We put our hearts and souls and lives into this game, but kids and family, puts life in perspective.

“For him to have his kid around, he can play more free and easy, and he has a different pride about him when he's around. It's touched all of us.”

Abreu can’t help but smile when he talks about his son and the opportunity to bond.

Dariel is only now learning the rules of baseball. While he’s new to the game, Dariel knows what a home run is and constantly asks his dad to hit one for him.

Abreu doesn’t think his son wants to follow in his footsteps as a professional baseball player. Dariel’s first love is cars, and Abreu thinks his son wants to one day be an Uber driver.

Though he’d love for him to play baseball, Abreu doesn’t care what his son chooses.

He’s just happy to have this chance to play the role of a father for the first time since he left home.

“When I was in Cuba of course he was young,” Abreu said. “Since then I've been trying to show him what I do and what I do to provide him all the supplies, all the things for him to be good. And now that I have him here, it’s another level. He's learning from another culture, how things are here, how I'm trying to do good here to offer him the best that I can and why. I'm glad that he's here and can see me playing every night. I'm very happy and proud for him to ask me to hit homers. 

“That's something that makes you feel proud and makes you feel like the biggest man in the world. You can't find a word to describe it.”

Cubs: Theo Epstein believes Kris Bryant can follow in Dustin Pedroia's MVP footsteps

Cubs: Theo Epstein believes Kris Bryant can follow in Dustin Pedroia's MVP footsteps

Joe Maddon has been trying to find a chance to give Kris Bryant a day off.

But how do you sit the hottest hitter on the planet?

Bryant just finished a torrid road trip in which he staked his claim to the National League MVP Award by hitting .417 with a 1.365 OPS, five homers, 11 RBIs and 11 runs in nine games. 

That pushed his season line to .305/.398/.588 (.986 OPS) with a league-leading 35 homers and 107 runs plus 89 RBIs.

So is he the Most Valuable Player in just his second season in "The Show"?

"I don't want to get too wrapped up in individual awards," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. "He's an outstanding player having a great year. It's never too early.

"(Red Sox second baseman) Dustin Pedroia is another guy we drafted over a decade ago and he did the same thing — Rookie of the Year in the first year and then MVP the next year. It can be done.

"(Bryant is) helping us win in so many different ways. Obviously coming up big of late, which is great to see. He deserves all the accolades that are coming his way and that may eventually come his way.

"But I think he'd probably be the first one to tell you he wants the team awards; he wants the team recognition in the end. The only one that really counts is winning your last game and the parade. Everything else is nice to fill the trophy case, but that's what everyone here is all about."

Bryant will undoubtedly split some MVP votes with teammate Anthony Rizzo (.946 OPS, 25 home runs, 89 RBIs), but the Cubs third baseman/outfielder woke up Monday morning leading all of baseball in WAR on FanGraphs' page.

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Even the Cubs admit Bryant has progressed beyond their realistic expectations.

"I would never have held him to this standard," Epstein said. "I wouldn't say, 'This is his development path. He's gotta go be maybe the Most Valuable Player in the league in the second year.' But at the same time, it doesn't surprise me.

"He's always been outstanding at making adjustments. Very cerebral player. Makes great use of his down time, whether it's the winter where he can work on swing adjustments or even the time between at-bats or pitch-to-pitch. He's just really, really good at making adjustments and thinks about his own game at a really high level.

"He's such a good athlete, he's able to take it right out on the field."

Bryant has also surprised Epstein and the Cubs with how he's evolved as a player.

"In some ways, surprising," Epstein said. "I thought he would always hit five to 10 opposite field home runs a year at a minimum, and he hasn't this year — that was his first one of the year the other day at Dodger Stadium.

"But he's added the ability to turn on the inside pitch and hit it in the air and keep it fair, so he's hitting more home runs as a result. So I never saw that coming.

"It's interesting the way his swing and his game have evolved."

In discussing the difference between 2016 Bryant and the rookie model, Maddon pointed to a decrease in strikeouts (from 30.6 percent in 2015 to 22 percent) and a smoother product on defense.

"The biggest for me is consistently shorter swing. More contact," Maddon said. "He's had smaller windows of chasing pitches out of the strike zone compared to last year when he did it more often.

"But recently, he's been using the outfield gap, which is really impressive. So offensively, that's what I'm seeing. Defensively, better feet on the infield.

"You'd see a lot of the patting of the glove as the feet were moving. I see it on occasion now, but not to the extent I saw it last year. He's still a great baserunner.

"So primarily — shorter hack, greater contact, less chase, right central is coming back into play right now and better feet on defense. That's what I'm seeing."

Put it all together and you have an MVP frontrunner entering September.

With season's final month looming, Cubs will apply lessons learned from 2015 playoff run

With season's final month looming, Cubs will apply lessons learned from 2015 playoff run

What a difference a year makes.

Last season, the Cubs put the pedal to the metal in advance of a four-game series with the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field in August and never looked back until they ran into the brick wall that was the New York Mets in the NLCS.

This season, with another four-game set with the Giants at the "Friendly Confines" on tap this week, the Cubs are in a completely different position.

There is no need for Joe Maddon to step on the gas and floor it into the postseason.

The Cubs entered play Monday 14 games up in the NL Central and they've already started counting down their magic number before the calendar has even flipped to September.

This year, it's going to be about rest and keeping guys sharp and fresh entering October, which the Cubs learned is key after last season.

Right now, the Cubs don't need to lean on Jake Arrieta to come close to a complete game each time out or utilize relievers on three straight nights in tight ballgames.

"I think our guys understand where we're at and it's going to be important to get where we want to go to be at their best," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Monday at Wrigley. "Last year's stretch and playoffs especially was instructive.

"I think we pushed guys hard during the year and it'd be nice for them to be at their absolute best during the most important time of year down the stretch and hopefully into October."

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The Cubs also have some reinforcements on the way with rosters expanding to 40 players Thursday.

Tommy La Stella continues to work out in the minor leagues and Epstein acknowledged Monday the left-handed role player could be back in Chicago as soon as this week.

"The guys coming up will get some playing time," Maddon said. "I've always talked about in a bad game or even in a really good game, to get guys off their feet, that's important.

"Whoever we're going to bring up right now, they're going to be pertinent people that are going to help us win also right now."

Hector Rondon (triceps) and Pedro Strop (knee) are progressing "really well," Maddon said, with Rondon nearing a return while Strop threw in Chicago during the Cubs' recent road trip and reported no issues. 

"We're just trying to really play it smart, not push them to come back too quickly," Maddon said. "But they're both making great progress."

John Lackey (strained shoulder) is slated to throw a pair of bullpens this week and could return from the disabled list on the current homestand if all goes well.

When Lackey does come back, the Cubs could keep Mike Montgomery as a starter and go with a six-man rotation to keep everybody fresher down the stretch.

With all the rest in mind, Maddon isn't worried about his players getting rusty or losing their edge at all.

[RELATED: With John Lackey ramping up for return, could Cubs go to six-man rotation?]

Maddon admitted he's never been in a position like this where the Cubs are close to locking up a playoff spot and still have a month to play. But he compared the idea of taking the foot off the gas to the same way teams handle pitchers at the end of spring training before the regular season starts.

"You're trying to conserve their moments for the most important time of the year," Maddon said. "Regardless of any kind of pushback you might get from the players themselves, I still think you can do it and control it and not worry about the rust component.

"I think by this time of year, rest in a more intelligent manner - limiting innings or number of pitches thrown - I don't think that's going to cause a negative downturn in their abilities by the end of September."

Of course, just because the Cubs are prioritizing rest doesn't mean they're going to take their foot off the gas completely.

Epstein, Lackey and Jon Lester saw firsthand how quickly a large lead can evaporate with the 2011 Boston Red Sox

"I think once you go through a year in which you have a double digit lead right before Labor Day and screw it up and don't even get into October, you don't take anything for granted," Epstein said. "I guess that's the only good thing to come out of September 2011 for me - I'll never look too far ahead and I'll never take anything for granted.

"You have to have a broad perspective and look ahead and understand what might lie ahead, but you have to go earn it. That's been our team's approach from the very beginning - not to accept some of the praise that's come our way. It's to go out and try to earn it with our play and that's definitely true in the month of September."