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Deadline deals have Cubs primed for stretch run

@MLBastian
August 1, 2019

ST. LOUIS -- David Phelps made the drive across Missouri from Kansas City to Busch Stadium on Tuesday with his dad. They found it a bit poetic that he was joining the Cubs -- the team they rooted against when the pitcher was a kid growing up in St. Louis.

ST. LOUIS -- David Phelps made the drive across Missouri from Kansas City to Busch Stadium on Tuesday with his dad. They found it a bit poetic that he was joining the Cubs -- the team they rooted against when the pitcher was a kid growing up in St. Louis.

Utility man Tony Kemp made it to the ballpark on Wednesday before the end of Chicago's game against the Cardinals. Outfielder Nicholas Castellanos was en route to suit up for the Cubs on Thursday in time for the finale of a series between the National League Central rivals, who are currently tied atop a division that is expected to be decided at the wire.

News of the Trade Deadline-spurred arrivals was welcomed around the Cubs' clubhouse.

"I was pumped about it, man," Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks said. "We made a lot of great moves. Obviously, we have so much trust in the group that we already have, but to bring those few guys in like that of that caliber, they're hell of ballplayers, man. So they're going to fit in great in this environment, I think, and help us out a lot down the stretch."

Castellanos headlines Cubs' Deadline moves

And that was the whole idea behind the series of moves made by the Cubs.

This has been a season of extreme highs and lows for a Chicago club striving to recapture World Series glory. The stars -- players like Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Willson Contreras and Anthony Rizzo -- have played like stars. But injuries have impacted the rotation at times and inconsistencies have plagued the bullpen. There have been issues with the leadoff spot and bench. And the road record (21-32)? That has been downright baffling.

Through all of that, though, the Cubs remain in the thick of both the division and NL Wild Card races. So even with the front office making it clear since the offseason that the 2019 baseball budget was tight, the team has tried to balance aggressiveness with creativity.

That started when the Cubs signed blockbuster closer Craig Kimbrel to a three-year, $43 million contract in June. Some of the more recent moves did not steal headlines -- two acquisitions (Derek Holland and Kemp) were recently designated for assignment and another (Phelps) is returning from Tommy John surgery -- but they addressed clear areas of need.

Grabbing Castellanos from the Tigers just before the 3 p.m. CT Trade Deadline on Wednesday moved the needle again.

"The 11th hour is the most powerful hour there is," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "We got some really fine additions at the right time. Really eager to get them involved and situated and put them in part of the rotation. Obviously, it makes us a better team."

With no August waiver trade period now, Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said "there's probably 30 teams right now wondering if they have enough depth." He said Chicago will use August to closely examine the performance of the depth options at Triple-A Iowa, especially in the bullpen, in preparation for rosters expanding in the final month.

Setup man Pedro Strop should be off the injured list some time in the coming week. Left-hander Cole Hamels is poised to be activated and rejoin the rotation for Saturday's game against the Brewers. Ben Zobrist -- whose professional approach has been sorely missed -- is attempting a comeback for the final month, following four months spent on the restricted list to tend to a family matter.

There are plenty of questions clouding each of those players' situations, but that is another round of reinforcements for Chicago.

"I'm just now getting to meet my teammates," Phelps said, "but I have to believe that guys are excited about the direction this club is going in. The guys in here know what it was like making deep pennant runs or deep playoff runs. So I'm excited to try and be a part of that as well."

With the Kimbrel signing and taking on Castellanos, the front office was permitted to push the team's franchise-record 2019 payroll to around $215 million and the luxury-tax payroll to the neighborhood of $245 million. Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein added an elite closer, addressed the bullpen, made a move to enhance the lineup's contact rate and production against left-handed pitching.

Now it is up to the players to make all the maneuvering pay off, making the most of this year of "reckoning," as Epstein phrased it back in December.

"I feel like we really have confidence in this group," Hoyer said. "We've shown that over and over. I really do believe that we're going to play our best baseball over this next two months."

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.