Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper are Nationals because the team formerly known as the Expos had a long run picking near the top of the Draft. Some think the Cubs followed that formula in the early years of the Theo Epstein regime.They did land Kris Bryant with the second overall
Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper are Nationals because the team formerly known as the Expos had a long run picking near the top of the Draft. Some think the Cubs followed that formula in the early years of the Theo Epstein regime.
They did land Kris Bryant with the second overall pick in 2013 and Kyle Schwarber with the fourth pick in '14, and those guys have helped the Cubs become one of the best teams in the Major Leagues. But an even bigger reason for the team's success is found in the moves made in July, not June.
Little will revitalize an organization quicker than shrewd trades for impactful prospects in the hours leading up to the non-waiver Trade Deadline -- the dance that will go on between now and 4 p.m. ET on Monday.
Nobody wants their favorite team to be a seller in midseason. It's a sign that something's gone wrong or the team hasn't rebuilt quickly enough to be in a playoff race. The last two months of the season are going to be spent on player development and long-term planning, not dreaming about October.
But getting it right when you are a seller is just as important as landing the right pieces as a buyer, maybe even more important. Midseason trades benefit the seller more than the buyer more often than not, and they can be critical in positioning a team for future success. Consider the Cubs.
They were a favorite stop for shoppers in each of Epstein's first three Julys in Chicago, and they executed a series of trades that set them up to reach the National League Championship Series in his fourth season.
Six of the 25 players on the active roster were quietly acquired in deals where most of the attention was directed toward the players going to a contender, not those coming to the Cubs. In chronological order:
July 31, 2012: After Ryan Dempster had used his 10-and-5 rights to reject a trade to the Braves, the Cubs persuaded him to accept a deal to the Rangers, which was completed in the last minutes before the Deadline. That trade landed the Cubs Kyle Hendricks, who by WAR has been the second-most important member of the 2016 rotation.
July 2, 2013: The Orioles needed a starting pitcher, and Scott Feldman, signed by the Cubs to a $6 million contract as a free agent before the season, was rolling. Epstein targeted Jake Arrieta in the talks and not only landed him but also setup man Pedro Strop in a deal that sent Feldman and versatile catcher Steve Clevenger to Baltimore. Arrieta won the 2015 NL Cy Young Award and is expected to be the Cubs' No. 1 starter this October.
July 22, 2013: A year after dealing for Dempster, the Rangers again called Epstein when they needed starting pitching. The focus was Matt Garza, who had allowed two runs or fewer in a streak of six starts. Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer worked out a four-for-one package in which they acquired pitchers Justin Grimm, Carl Edwards Jr. and Neil Ramírez along with third baseman Mike Olt. Grimm has been a fixture of the Cubs' bullpen since then, and Edwards is working to carve out his own role this season.
July 5, 2014: The Athletics were off to a 53-33 start and leading the American League West by 3 1/2 games, but Billy Beane had a bad feeling about his rotation. He wanted front-of-the-rotation arms and depth, and he was willing to pay highly for it. The Cubs landed shortstop Addison Russell, then only 20 and already in Double-A, in a package for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel (who they would re-sign as a free agent after the season).
The Cubs, of course, aren't the only team that has benefited from an ability to turn expendable veterans into talented prospects. The Indians wouldn't be leading the AL Central without a pair of deals they made when they were down.
Carlos Carrasco was a piece of the package they got from the Phillies in return for Cliff Lee on July 29, 2009. Corey Kluber, who won the AL Cy Young Award in 2014, was acquired from the Padres in a three-team deal on the day of the Trade Deadline the following year.
The Pirates acquired Josh Harrison, then 21 and just promoted to Class A Advanced, from the Cubs in a deal for lefties John Grabow and Tom Gorzelanny in 2009. In that same trading cycle, the Blue Jays got Edwin Encarnacion in a package for third baseman Scott Rolen, whom the Reds coveted for the influence he could have in future seasons.
The Rangers landed Elvis Andrus, Neftalí Feliz and Matt Harrison from the Braves for Mark Teixeira in 2007. The Orioles sent Koji Uehara to the Rangers in 2011 and came away with first baseman Chris Davis, who would hit 53 home runs two years later.
The Tigers uncharacteristically took a backward step in July last year, but in doing so, they landed right-hander Michael Fulmer from the pitching-rich Mets for Yoenis Céspedes, and Fulmer is a major reason that Detroit is challenging to return to postseason play this season.
Sometimes you really can take one step backwards and two steps forward. You just have to target the right young players and not make a trade until a team buying your veterans lets you have them.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com.