Strong deadline deals in 2012-14 were major factor in Cubs building toward elusive title
Trading veterans for prospects helped them amass talent that aided their run to the 2016 World Series title.
Waiting to see which veteran players go in return for what caliber of prospect is nothing new for Cubs fans.
The Cubs went down this road in the years leading up to their breakthrough to the National League Championship Series in 2015 and World Series triumph in 2016.
Churning veterans for prospects doesn’t work every time, but it was important in building the championship Cubs. Let’s look at a few deals, focusing on players and ignoring other considerations.
• Ryan Dempster to the Rangers for Christian Villanueva and Kyle Hendricks.
The Cubs and Rangers announced two deals July 31, 2012, with catcher Geovany Soto and cash going to the Rangers for pitching prospect Jake Brigham.
The other deal was far more significant. Dempster went 7-3 with a 5.09 ERA and 0.9 Fangraphs WAR as the Rangers captured an American League wild-card berth. The next season was Dempster’s last, as he went 8-9 with a 4.57 ERA and 0.5 fWAR for the Red Sox.
Dempster’s total post-Cubs fWAR was 1.4. Hendricks has been a Cubs mainstay since 2014 and is 87-61 with a 3.46 ERA and 22.6 fWAR. Chalk up one for the prospect.
• Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger to the Orioles for Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop on July 2, 2013.
Feldman was 7-6 with a 3.46 ERA and 1.1 fWAR with the Cubs, then 5-6 with a 4.27 ERA and 1.1 fWAR for the Orioles, who missed the playoffs. He drifted to the Astros, Blue Jays and Reds, and his post-Cubs fWAR totaled 4.3. Clevenger was a backup catcher with minus-1.2 fWAR in parts of six seasons, minus-0.6 after leaving the Cubs.
Arrieta rolled to the 2015 NL Cy Young Award, going 22-6 with a 1.77 ERA and 7.0 fWAR, then was 18-8 with a 3.10 ERA and 3.5 fWAR in 2016. In 2013-17, his fWAR was 18.3 as he went 68-31. A less-than-successful return (5-11, 6.88 ERA, minus-0.6 fWAR) in 2021 after three seasons with the Phillies can’t tarnish his star.
As a bullpen regular for the Cubs in 2013-19, Strop was 22-24 with 29 saves, a 2.88 ERA and 5.5 fWAR.
• Jeff ‘‘Shark’’ Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Athletics for Addison Russell, Billy McKinney and Dan Straily on July 5, 2014.
Outfielder McKinney and pitcher Straily made no impact with the Cubs, but infielder Russell was an important part of the club until his career unraveled in the wake of domestic-abuse allegations.
Russell had an 11.8 fWAR in 2015-19, with a career-best 3.6 for the 2016 champions. He never blossomed at the plate, hitting .242/.312/.392 over five seasons. He hit .238/.321/.417 in 2016, but he slugged 21 of his career 60 home runs and had 95 of his career 253 RBI that season, topping his next-best season by 41.
Hammel had been 8-2 with a 2.98 ERA for the Cubs but collapsed to 2-6 with a 4.26 ERA and minus-0.3 fWAR with the A’s. Samardzija, who was 2-7 despite a 2.83 ERA and 2.2 fWAR for the Cubs, was 5-6 with a 3.11 ERA and 2.2 fWAR for the A’s.
The A’s flipped Samardzija to the White Sox for a package that included shortstop Marcus Semien.
Semien compiled 14.7 fWAR in six seasons with the A’s, including a star-level 6.6 in 2019, so both sides found value in the Samardzija/Russell deal.