Photo courtesy of Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
For fans of the Chicago Cubs—and, if you are reading this, I am assuming you fall into that category or, at the very least, that of Interested Observer—the biggest story of the last three years has been the rebuild of the organization from the ground up. While the seeds of that rebuild were planted the moment the Ricketts Family Trust purchased the team in October of 2009, it began in earnest when—two years later—Ricketts brought Theo Epstein in from Boston to lead the team’s baseball operations.
The team Epstein inherited from Jim Hendry was a bit of a mess, winning just 71 games and finishing twenty games below .500. With the Cubs winning games with some regularity these days, it’s easy to forget how far the team has come. This piece will take a look back at each player who appeared in a game for the Cubs in September 2011 and look at both where they went and what the Cubs got in return for them (if anything). In doing so, I’m hoping that it’ll become apparent to those fans who maybe tuned out a bit for the last few years just how much the current regime has changed things during their time here, and how much we can expect from them going forward.
Let’s start with the pitchers on that September 2011 club. And here they are:
- Andrew Cashner—Traded with Kyung-Min Na 1/6/12 to SDP for Anthony Rizzo and Zach Cates. Cashner, once the jewel of the Cubs’ pitching program, was shipped out the door almost immediately. While neither Na nor Cates have amounted to much, the headliners have both done pretty well: Cashner is a mainstay of the Padres’ rotation, and Rizzo is locked in at first base in Chicago for the foreseeable future. Of the two, though, I think most would take Rizzo.
- Casey Coleman—Released 4/14/14. Coleman, most noteable for being a third-generation major-league pitcher, never really caught on with the Cubs.
- Ryan Dempster—Traded 7/31/12 to TEX for Kyle Hendricks and Christian Villanueva. This one worked out really well for both the Cubs and Dempster. Hendricks is currently the fourth man in the Cubs rotation after winning organizational minor-league Pitcher of the Year award in 2013, and Villanueva is key minor-league depth. Dempster, meanwhile, won a championship with the 2013 Red Sox, retired, and returned to the Cubs as a special assistant.
- Rafael Dolis—Granted free agency 11/5/13. Dolis was a middling contributor for the Cubs for another season before departing to San Francisco for the 2013 season, where he failed to crack the big-league roster. His last big-league game was also his last game for the Cubs.
- Matt Garza—Traded 7/22/13 to TEX for Mike Olt, Carl Edwards, Jr. (who, until recently, went by CJ Edwards), Justin Grimm, and PTBNL (Neil Ramirez). Garza, who famously said he’d like to “kick their teeth in” about the Cubs after his departure, returned a haul to the team nonetheless. Olt started at third base on Opening Night for the Cubs, Edwards may well make the team in the bullpen down the stretch, and Grimm and Ramirez are already key bullpen contributors.
- John Gaub—Selected off waiver 4/5/12 by TBR. Later that season, Gaub was claimed by the Rangers, and then the Cardinals, but 2011 was his only major-league season.
- John Grabow—Granted free agency 10/30/11. The other John G. on the 2011 Cubs, Grabow was on the tail end of a pretty decent big-league career during his time in Chicago. While he signed with the Dodgers for spring training 2012, 2011 was his last season.
- Rodrigo Lopez—Granted free agency 11/3/12. Lopez was actually re-signed for the 2012 campaign, but departed after that season to the Phillies, by whom he was promptly released.
- Carlos Marmol—Traded with cash 7/2/13 to LAD for Matt Guerrier. Marmol was a frustrating and mercurial presence during his time with the Cubs, at times showing flashes of brilliance and at times being, well, awful. The return on his trade to the Dodgers, Guerrier, put up good numbers for the 2013 Cubs, but moved on after the season.
- Sean Marshall—Traded 12/23/11 to CIN for Travis Wood, Dave Sappelt, and Ronald Torreyes. Although Marshall was a very good reliever for many years, this trade has been better for the Cubs in the long term than his presence would have beeen. Wood is the fifth man in the Cubs rotation, and Torreyes returned the Cubs two international bonus pool slots from the Astros a few years later.
- Ramon Ortiz—Granted free agency 10/30/11. Ortiz, a journeyman reliever, left for sunnier pastures in the 2011-12 offseason, and only had 25 1/3 major-league innings left in the tank, for Toronto in 2013.
- James Russell—Traded with Emilio Bonafacio 7/31/14 to ATL for Victor Caratini. After a few pretty good seasons with the Cubs, Russell was shipped south for Caratini, who now forms part of the Cubs suddenly-strong stable of catching prospects. After inneffectiveness led to his release from the Braves, he re-signed with the Cubs this spring and is currently at Triple-A Iowa.
- Jeff Samardzija—Traded with Jason Hammel 7/5/14 to OAK for Addison Russell, Dan Straily, Billy McKinney, and cash. Samardzija, the former Notre Dame wide receiver, wanted to be paid like the ace he wasn’t yet, so the Cubs traded him to the A’s, along with present-again Cub Jason Hammel, for one of the best returns in recent memory. Russell is already the starting second baseman for the big-league club, McKinney is moving up the minor league system, and Straily was packaged with Luis Valbuena for Dexter Fowler.
- Randy Wells—Granted free agency 10/4/12. Wells briefly looked like he could step into the Cubs rotation, but things never quite clicked for him. He retired for good in 2013, pitching his last big-league inning in 2012, for the Cubs.
- Kerry Wood—Retired 5/19/12. Ending the pitchers’ part of this story with a familiar, and well-loved, face. Wood retired after striking out Dayan Viciedo on a sun-kissed day at Wrigley, bringing the crowd to their feet. While I don’t know the full extent of Wood’s post-baseball activities as special assistant to the president/GM for the Cubs, I can report that he once patronised a bar that I worked at as a bartender last summer.
That was a pleasant trip down memory lane. Although none of the pitchers the Cubs’ used in 2011 are still on the big-league roster, eight of the players acquired in return for them, either directly or indirectly, are: Rizzo, Hendricks, Olt, Grimm, Ramirez, Travis Wood, Fowler, and Russell. That’s not even counting the minor-league players, like Caratini, Villanueva, Edwards, and McKinney, who might yet return future value for the organization. Not a bad haul for a fifteen-man staff. Now let’s take a look at the 2011 position players:
- Jeff Baker—Traded 8/5/12 to DET for PTBNL (Marcelo Carreno) and cash. Baker was a solid role player for a few bad Cubs teams, but didn’t return the franchise much in trade value. After being shipped to Detroit, Baker was promptly moved again, this time to Atlanta for their playoff push. Carreno hasn’t amounted to much for the Cubs.
- Darwin Barney—Traded 7/28/14 to LAD for PTBNL (Jonathan Martinez). Barney was an excellent defensive second-baseman, winning a Gold Glove for his efforts, but could never do enough with the bat to be the Cubs’ second baseman of the future. When Arismendy Alcantara was called up last season, Barney went on the DL and never returned. He remains with the Dodgers organization, currently with their Triple-A affiliate after being optioned there in mid-April.
- Marlon Byrd—Traded with cash 4/21/12 to BOS for Michael Bowden and PTBNL (Hunter Cervenka). Byrd, who ran into steroid problems shortly after leaving the Cubs, returned a decent bullpen piece (Bowden, since departed) and a current pitching prospect (Cervenka).
- Tony Campana—Traded 2/18/13 to ARI for Jesus Castillo and Erick Leal. Campana, he of the blazing speed, was a fan favorite (if not a particularly competent contributor) during his time in Chicago. That said, both Castillo and Leal have carved out decent minor-league careers with the Cubs, with the latter now forming part of the South Bend Cubs rotation.
- Starlin Castro—You recognize this name. The only member of the 2011 roster still with the big-league team, Castro is now on his fifth Cubs manager, and is seeking his fourth All-Star selection in his age-25 season. Not a bad hold for the Cubs.
- Steve Clevenger—Traded with Scott Feldman 7/2/13 to BAL for Jake Arrieta, Pedro Strop and cash. Although Clevenger never did much during his time with the Cubs, he was a minor member of what may go down—putting aside the Samardzija-Russell trade—as one of the best deals in the Epstein-Hoyer era. Arrieta has emerged as one of the dominant pitchers in the Senior Circuit, and Strop is a key component of the Cubs’ bullpen. Not bad for three months of Feldman and Clevenger.
- Tyler Colvin—Traded with DJ LeMahieu 12/8/11 to COL for Ian Stewart and Casey Weathers. This one didn’t really work out for the Cubs: none of the four principals, save LeMahieu, are on current big-league rosters, and Stewart may have done more to hurt the team than help it during his single season with the organization.
- Blake DeWitt—Granted free agency 10/4/12. I followed the 2011 Cubs pretty closely, and some of these names are still very much in ‘blast from the past’ territory. DeWitt’s is one of those names. He hung around for the 2012 season before departing to Atlanta via free agency during the 2012-13 offseason. The Braves released him in mid-August 2013, and he hasn’t played a major-league game since.
- Koyie Hill—Granted free agency 6/17/12. A relatively memorable participant in the parade of backup catchers the Cubs have employed in recent years, Hill departed for the Nationals, and last appeared in the majors last season for the Phillies.
- Reed Johnson—Traded with Paul Maholm and cash 7/30/12 to ATL for Jaye Chapman and Arodys Vizcaino. Like Campana, Johnson was very much a fan favorite during his time in Chicago, and many were sad to see him go in this deadline deal. That said, while Chapman was released last year, Vizcaino formed the centerpiece of the deal that brought Tommy La Stella to Chicago (again from the Braves), who may yet be a key contributor for the 2015 big-league team.
- Bryan LaHair—Released 11/21/12. LaHair was a classic flash-in-the pan, making the All-Star team in 2012, but fading so badly by the end of the season that he was sold to the Softbank Hawks of the Japanese Pacific League. LaHair saw some success in Japan, but never again in the big leagues.
- DJ LeMahieu—Already addressed above, with the Colvin trade. LeMahieu has carved out a pretty nice career for himself, winning a Gold Glove last season and posting a .317 TAv with the Rockies through 22 games this year.
- Luis Montanez—Granted free agency 11/18/11. I’ll admit that until I started researching this post, I’d forgotten that Luis Montanez existed. In any event, the former third overall pick in the 2000 draft departed for Philadelphia shortly after Epstein and company arrived, but never played another major-league game.
- Carlos Pena—Granted free agency 10/30/11. Signed to fill the void created by the departure of Derrek Lee, Pena had a pretty good year in 2011 but was allowed to walk in the offseason. It’s a good thing he did, because the compensation pick the Cubs received for his departure allowed them to draft Paul Blackburn, who’s currently one of the team’s better pitching prospects.
- Aramis Ramirez—Granted free agency 10/31/11. It’s hard to remember now, but one of the big questions in the 2011-12 offseason was whether to retain Ramirez’s services. He’d been a mainstay at third base since being acquired for the stretch run in 2003 (in one of the Hendry regime’s better moves), and there was a sizeable contingent of fans who howled when Ramirez was allowed to sign with Milwaukee, where he remains. Probably better that he did, though. With Ramirez, who had another few productive years in him, the Cubs would have been unlikely to be in a position to draft Albert Almora, Kris Bryant, or Kyle Schwarber. More directly, the Cubs were able to use the supplemental pick they received for Ramirez’s departure to select Pierce Johnson, who could see big-league rotation time as soon as next year. Regardless, Ramirez was very productive for the Cubs, posting a 126 OPS+ in parts of nine seasons with the team and remains so in Milwaukee, with a 122 OPS+ in three-plus years.
- Alfonso Soriano—Traded 7/26/13 to NYY for Corey Black. Soriano was often treated poorly during his time in Chicago, both for a perceived inability to live up to his huge contract, and for an unfair tag as ‘lazy.’ Although by the time he left these perceptions had largely abated in Chicago, they hadn’t abated enough to return more than pitching prospect Corey Black. That said, Black has been a key contributor on a number of the Cubs’ affiliates, is currently pitching for Double-A Tennessee, and if he can take care of some occasional control problems, could prove to be a solid bullpen piece in the future.
- Geovany Soto—Traded 7/31/12 to TEX for Jake Brigham and cash. For a while there, it looked like Soto would be the Cubs’ catcher for a long time. It was not to be, and he was rather unceremoniously sent to the Rangers at the deadline in 2012. He’s now, improbably enough, with the White Sox, backing up Tyler Flowers.
Note that the numbers of pitchers and hitters combined adds up to more than twenty-five, because rosters expand in September. Like the pitchers, the Cubs 2011 position players contributed a huge amount to the present 2015 Cubs. Arrieta, Strop, and La Stella are mainstays of the big-league club, and Johnson, Black, Leal, Blackburn, and Cervenka are part of an excellent minor-league system. Looking at the rebuild this way—from its beginning to its present—really gives you an incredible sense of how far the Cubs have come. All told, eleven members of the current big-league roster are a direct legacy of that 2011 club. The losing was painful, but it’s starting to become worth it. Maybe it always was.