There’s still the bother of the National League Central, which probably everyone can agree the Chicago Cubs have allowed to go on long enough, but, you know, house money spends too. Even then, there comes a time when your champion of yesterday isn’t quite your champion today, so in the course of 17 days the Cubs have twice traded their reputed best prospect in order to address the same problem: the year after.
To the former, the Cubs on Sunday won for the 13th time in 16 games, and went from 5½ games behind the Milwaukee Brewers to 2½ games ahead and, presumably, to more of the same for the next two months. To the latter, 2½ weeks after kicking four players, including outfielder Eloy Jimenez, to the Chicago White Sox for starting pitcher Jose Quintana, reached an agreement on a trade Sunday night that would bring Detroit Tigers lefty reliever Justin Wilson and catcher Alex Avila for three players, including corner infielder Jeimer Candelario.
Jimenez was the Cubs’ top minor leaguer, back then. He became the White Sox’s second-best prospect, behind Yoan Moncada, who is in the big leagues. Candelario moved into the place vacated by Jimenez for all of 2½ weeks, at which time the Cubs decided to shore up their bullpen, that at the expense of another piece of what used to be The Plan.
Oh, it’s still The Plan, probably, only the pitching staff isn’t exactly what it was then, and there’ll be all hands on deck for the next two months and certainly for the month after that. So, while winning a World Series for the first time in 108 years was a heavy lift, becoming the first team to win back-to-back World Series in 17 years (and first in the NL since 1976) was proving to be no simple task either. The Los Angeles Dodgers are, so far, better than the Cubs were last year, for one, and their young left-handed hitters are part of the reason why.
Therefore, the Cubs, whose bullpen already was very capable, added Wilson, who in 42 games with the Tigers had an 0.943 WHIP, 12.3 strikeouts per nine, and a .157 batting average against. Of his 40 1/3 innings, 26 1/3 were in the ninth inning, so on the days Wade Davis must be rested, Wilson should be a fine alternative. He’s actually been more effective against right-handed hitters than left.
The veteran Avila, son of Tigers’ general manager Al, will back up Willson Contreras. At 30, Avila, a left-handed hitter, is having one of his more productive offensive seasons. He’s also caught 34 postseason games.
Just a few weeks ago, when the Cubs seemingly had yet to put last season behind them, the front office sought improvement in three areas. They addressed those in Quintana, in Wilson, and in Avila. The cost was in a bit of their future, the very thing they’d chased and guarded for so many years, and arrived only last Nov. 2. So, perspective changes. Once, the future was way out there somewhere, out beyond a 108th season, beyond probably anything they could have imagined. Win, though, really win, and there’s a future to be had right now, in a week of games coming against Arizona and Washington, and in two months of more in the NL Central, and presumably in another October.
None of this happens, perhaps, without their adding a left-handed reliever – Aroldis Chapman – at least year’s deadline. The cost was prospects then, too. It’s part of the process. Part of The Plan. There comes, after all, a time to do it again. And it might be even harder.