ST. LOUIS -- It was not that long ago that Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein made it known that significant changes could be coming if the team did not find its footing soon. At that point shortly before the All-Star break, it was not entirely clear whether Chicago would be buying or selling via trade.
There have still be inconsistencies with the Cubs over the past few weeks, but the club did some buying ahead of Wednesday's 3 p.m. CT Trade Deadline. Chicago acquired Nicholas Castellanos from the Tigers and utility man Tony Kemp from the Astros, one day after reeling in right-hander David Phelps from the Blue Jays.
"Do we believe in this team? Absolutely," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. "If we didn't believe in them, we wouldn't have been aggressive at the Deadline to add."
Here is a breakdown of the Cubs' three acquisitions:
ADDING AN IMPACT BAT
Cubs get: Castellanos and a cash consideration
Tigers get: Pitching prospects Paul Richan and Alex Lange
Castellanos was scratched moments before he was scheduled to bat for the Tigers during their game against the Angels in Anaheim on Wednesday. The teams have discussed parameters of the deal for days, but the final agreement was reached seconds before the Deadline.
"It always takes a Deadline to kind of spur activity," Hoyer said.
One of Chicago's biggest needs going into the Deadline was some offensive help and, specifically, someone who could improve the team's production against left-handed pitching. The Cubs entered Wednesday with a 92 wRC+ as a team against lefties and an 82 wRC+ vs. southpaws dating back to June 1. For context, 100 wRC+ is considered league average.
Castellanos joins the Cubs with a .347/.415/.611 slash line in 82 plate appearances against left-handed pitching, but he is in the plans as an everyday option. In 100 games overall, the corner outfielder hit .273 with 11 homers, 37 doubles, 37 RBIs and a .790 OPS this year for Detroit. Manager Joe Maddon said Castellanos will be mixed in both in right and left field.
"I'm very excited to be able to go to Chicago and help this team in a pennant race in any way that I can," Castellanos told reporters in Anaheim. "But I also know that when all the excitement and everything slows down, I’ll miss everything that was in Detroit."
Maddon could use Castellanos to spell lefty-hitting Kyle Schwarber in left field against lefties. On days Castellanos mans right field, Jason Heyward could slide to center field. At the moment, the Cubs also have Ian Happ, who plays all three outfield spots, and center fielder Albert Almora Jr.
Infielder Robel Garcia was optioned to Triple-A Iowa and pitcher Oscar De La Cruz was designated for assignment to clear spots on the 25- and 40-man rosters, respectively, for Castellanos.
"The guy's a good hitter," Maddon said. "I always thought he patterned himself after [Miguel] Cabrera a little bit early on. I saw a lot of balls go in that [right-center] gap. Really a good hitter, very good against left-handers. Getting away from that ballpark [in Detroit] is going to help him a little bit also."
IMPROVING THE BENCH
Cubs get: Kemp
Astros get: Catcher Martin Maldonado
When Willson Contreras was headed to the injured list earlier this month, the Cubs swung a trade with Kansas City to pick up Maldonado in exchange for lefty Mike Montgomery. The move served a purpose as the time, but it became somewhat problematic once Contreras returned.
Carrying three catchers -- Contreras, Maldonado and backup Victor Caratini -- limited the flexibility of the Cubs' bench. The team also did not feel the situation was fair to the well-respected Maldonado, who appeared in just four games for Chicago. So, the Cubs shipped him to Houston for a versatile utility player in Kemp.
"We definitely tinkered around with what it would feel like with three catchers," Hoyer said. "And, to be honest with you, we got to a place where we weren't that comfortable with doing that. Everyone was really professional about it."
Maddon said Kemp will mostly play second base, but he is also an option at all three outfield spots. Beyond that, Kemp brings something to the table that the Cubs lacked.
The 27-year-old Kemp -- designated for assignment on Friday -- has posted an 85.2 percent contact rate, an 89.3 percent contact rate on pitches in the strike zone and a 6.7 swinging-strike rate this season, per FanGraphs. Entering Wednesday, the Cubs had a 73.3 percent contact rate (15th in the NL), 83 percent contact rate in the zone (14th) and 12.4 percent swinging-strike rate (15th) as a team.
"That was something that we'd been looking for," Hoyer said. "Our swing and miss rates are high -- too high, frankly, for what we would want. And finding a guy that puts the ball in play, bat-to-ball skills, I think that's really important for us."
MORE BULLPEN TWEAKS
Cubs get: Lefty Brad Wieck
Padres get: Righty Carl Edwards Jr.
Montgomery recorded the final out of the 2016 World Series triumph for the Cubs. Edwards was responsible for the two outs prior to that in the 10th inning against the Indians. Both were staples of the Chicago bullpen for the past few years, and are now suiting up for other clubs.
As part of Wednesday's moves, the Cubs sent Edwards and international bonus pool money to San Diego.
"He got two of the three outs in the 10th inning of the biggest game in Cubs history," Hoyer said. "So, we'll never forget his contributions. I really enjoy him as a person. I wish him all the best. This was a situation that, there's no other way to say it, but we felt like it was time for a change of scenery. I think that happens in sports."
That wrapped up a busy day for the Cubs, who also received international bonus pool money from the Rockies in exchange for Minor League outfielder Jimmy Herron. Prior to the game against St. Louis, Chicago also added Phelps to the active roster and optioned right-hander Duane Underwood Jr. to Triple-A Iowa.
Hoyer noted that the Cubs were essentially done addressing their Major League bullpen after reeling in Phelps from Toronto. Wieck, who has been on Chicago's radar since last offseason, will be sent to Triple-A Iowa to give the team another layer of left-handed depth. That was a priority for the Cubs, which also acquired lefty Derek Holland from the Giants on Friday.
"We all feel strongly about Carl," Maddon said. "I've been touting this guy's potential as a Major League closer for several years. It might be the right time for him to get a new look out of the windshield, and just hearing different voices is possibly good for him right now. I'm excited for him."