You can count on one hand — maybe one finger — how many chances the Chicago Cubs have had in the last five or six decades to win the World Series, like they do this season.
Chicago has done a masterful job of building a championship contender in relatively short time. General manager Theo Epstein, forever a hero in Boston, is trying to do the same in Chicago, and so far, the results speak for themselves. He still does not have a World Series ring to show for it, though.
This season, however, looks like it finally could be “the year.”
The Cubs entered Monday with a 59-38 record, the best in Major League Baseball. And still, they went out and made a potentially huge upgrade to their major league roster by reportedly acquiring closer Aroldis Chapman from the New York Yankees.
Among the players going to New York in the reported trade is the Cubs’ top prospect, Gleyber Torres. The infielder landed on just about every list of top prospects entering the season, and he has a high ceiling. The Cubs also gave up Billy McKinney — another top prospect — and Adam Warren, a pitcher with big league experience.
That’s obviously a lot to give up for a pending free agent like Chapman. While there’s already some reported interest in signing a contract extension, there’s no guarantee he stays in Chicago after the season.
All of that being said, however, the Cubs should be applauded for their aggressiveness in acquiring Chapman. (Of course, that’s strictly from a baseball perspective, as any apprehension Cubs fans feel about acquiring someone with domestic violence allegations like Chapman has is not only understandable, but even warranted.)
But from a baseball standpoint, Cubs fans should love this trade. These sorts of opportunities are tough to come by. No one knows that better than the Cubs, a team that hasn’t even been to the World Series since 1945. If not now, when?
For as good as the Cubs have been this season, their bullpen certainly could have used an upgrade. Sure, they’re in the top half of almost every relief category in baseball, but shutdown relief pitching in the playoffs now is as important as it’s ever been. Look no further than the Kansas City Royals last season.
Obviously, the Cubs or any team in baseball would prefer to hold on to their prospects for as long as possible, giving them a shot to flourish at the highest level. But not every championship team is filled with homegrown players. Almost all of the Cubs’ roster was built through trades or free agency.
There’s potential for Torres and McKinney to be good major leaguers some day, but if the Cubs want to achieve their team potential at the major league level, it wasn’t going to be with those two players — at least not any time soon, anyway. And does anyone really think, given Epstein’s track record, that the Cubs aren’t going to replenish their farm system sooner rather than later?
Prospects are necessary to facilitate these sorts of trades that augment big league rosters, either by filling holes and/or taking advantage of teams that aren’t in a position to contend and need to get the most for their most valuable big league players. Few baseball executives, if any, strike that balance better than Epstein, especially given the financial flexibility a big-market team like the Cubs possesses. To this day, it’s still evident with the Red Sox, and chances are, it’s going to continue in Chicago.
The risk for this kind of a trade on the Cubs’ end is undeniable, but it’s a risk they had to take.
Thumbnail photo via Adam Hunger/USA TODAY Sports