As the Cubs march on to their first National League Championship Series since 2003, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s important to note that while ChicagoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s high-profile transactionsÃ‚Â (the high draft picks and the signing of Jon Lester) have garnered most of the headlines, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the organizationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s lesser moves — many of them in-season transactions — that have aided the CubsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ meteoric rise.
LetÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s get hypedÃ‚Â moves out of the way. Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein successfully recruited Jon Lester, one of his former war horses with the Red Sox, over the winter, handing the southpaw starter $155 million over six years.
The high draft picks have helped, too. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve found myself fawning over Kyle Schwarber, Anthony Rizzo, and Kris Bryant…and Javier Baez…and Addison Russell…and Jorge Soler — did I mention Kyle Schwarber? — just like the rest of America.
The 22-year-old Schwarber (No. 4 overall, 2014), 23-year-old Bryant (No. 2, 2013), and 22-year-old Baez (No. 9, 2011) were high-choiceÃ‚Â first-roundÃ‚Â draft picks by the Cubs, a product of five straight losing seasons from 2010-2014. The 21-year-old Russell (No. 11, 2012, by the Athletics) came over in theÃ‚Â Jeff Samardzija deal in July 2014. The 26-year-old Rizzo was acquired by the Cubs in January 2012 as part of the package for Andrew Cashner, who was a former first round pick of Chicago in 2008. (Rizzo, a sixth-round pick of the Red Sox in 2007, was sent to San Diego in the firstÃ‚Â Adrian Gonzalez trade.) The 23-year-old Soler, who defected from Cuba in 2011, was signed to a nine-year, $30 million contract in 2012.
ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s impressive scouting — but also, a lump sum of luck — at work.
But, I after I saw this tweet from Joe Sheehan during Game 4 of the Cubs’ NLDS tilt with the Cardinals, I tookÃ‚Â notice of the unheralded bunchÃ‚Â contributing to ChicagoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s cause. As SheehanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s tweet notes, Trevor Cahill, Clayton Richard, and Francisco Rodney combined to record six outs and four strikeouts in the deciding Game 4 for the Cubs.
Cahill, a one-time effective starter in the majors,Ã‚Â wasÃ‚Â dueÃ‚Â $12 million this year, but $6.5 million ofÃ‚Â his salary was paid by the Diamondbacks. The Braves ate the rest of that money when they designated Cahill for assignment in June. The Cubs inked Cahill to a minor-league deal in early July and threw him in the bullpen. Richard, who didn’t pitch in the big leagues in 2014, playedÃ‚Â on a minor-league contract. Rodney, who led the majors in saves in 2014 and can still light up a radar gun, made $7 million this season, but the Mariners had already paid nearly $6 million of RodneyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s 2015 salary when they shipped him to the Cubs in late August.
ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not the end of the CubsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ bargain hunting bearing fruit. Eighth-inning man Pedro Strop (2.91 ERA, 10.7 K/9) came to Chicago from Baltimore in the Jake Arrieta trade in July 2013 — that swap seems to have worked out — and earnedÃ‚Â $2.53 million this year. Speaking of Arrieta, the possible NL Cy Young Award winner made just over $3.6 million in 2015. Cubs closer Hector Rondon (1.67 ERA, 8.9 K/9) was a Rule 5 selection by Chicago in December 2012Ã‚Â and earnedÃ‚Â $544,000 this season.
ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s important to acknowledge the not-so-trivial details in roster management. Finding those diamonds in the roughÃ‚Â is where presidents of baseball operations, general managers, and their scouting/analytical staffs earn their coin. Casual baseball fans know how good Lester is,Ã‚Â andÃ‚Â anyone can read RedsMinorLeagues.com, Baseball America, or FanGraphs a day before the amateur draft and read up on theÃ‚Â can’t-miss prospects.
In spite of the production they’ve received from their homer-happy youngsters,Ã‚Â without those savvy smaller moves, the Cubs may have no bridge from Jason Hammel to the late innings in Game 4.
The Reds mustÃ‚Â be constantly vigilant and pursue similar transactions in the coming years. They can’tÃ‚Â be afraid to trade for aÃ‚Â discarded prospectÃ‚Â or take a flier on someone in the Rule 5 draft instead of pigeonholing their roster and inking cheap utility infielders or washed-upÃ‚Â relievers. There’s a difference between stingy and economical, and given the Reds’ apparent financial constraints, it’s important for the front office to walk that line andÃ‚Â locate as many bargains as possible, especially since it’sÃ‚Â never clear who mayÃ‚Â help you win a future playoff game.