The Chicago Cubs are one game out of the top spot in the National League Central, but the club has made a series of moves in the days and hours leading up to the MLB trade deadline to try to shore up their roster.
They made three such moves on the day of the deadline alone, acquiring outfielder Nick Castellanos from the Detroit Tigers, utilityman Tony Kemp from the Houston Astros, and relief pitcher Brad Wieck from the San Diego Padres.
In all, the Cubs have made a series of five trades over the last few days of July, and each move addresses a different need on the team’s roster.
The biggest addition the Cubs made before the deadline was also the one that took the longest to consummate, as Tigers GM Al Avila said that the two sides didn’t agree to the deal until less than one minute before the 3 p.m. Central deadline.
In acquiring Castellanos, the Cubs have added a potent bat to their lineup, and one that can help them with their significant struggles against left-handed pitching. Castellanos has a .347 batting average against lefties this season and an impressive OPS of 1.026, with four home runs and 11 RBIs in 72 at-bats against southpaws.
Castellanos will likely see a good amount of playing time in right field when lefties are on the mound, with either Albert Almora or Jason Heyward playing center field, and he will be a key bench bat against lefty relievers as well.
The one place you shouldn’t expect to see Castellanos is at third base, as his defense there is inferior to that of Kris Bryant and David Bote.
The Cubs acquired Holland from the San Francisco Giants before their series against the Milwaukee Brewers, and that timing is not coincidental when it comes to the vision that they have for him in a Cubs uniform.
Holland’s ERA of 5.79 this season is rough, but for the most part, that damage has come against right-handed hitters. Against lefties Holland is significantly better, giving up just three total runs and just one extra-base hit in 91 plate appearances against left-handed batters.
The Cubs haven’t really had a reliever who can reliably retire lefties this season, despite trying several different candidates in the role, and Holland could be looked at to fill the team’s LOOGY (left-handed one out guy) role this season.
Kemp, acquired from the Astros in exchange for back-up catcher Martin Maldonado, will likely play the role of a utilityman for the Cubs, able to play both the outfield (especially center field) and at second base, a position the Cubs have been desperate to upgrade at throughout the trade deadline season.
Kemp’s batting average of .227 doesn’t exactly jump off the page, but his fielding versatility, along with having a bit of speed and contact ability, is something the Cubs were hoping to acquire, as they’ve struggled in all three categories this season.
Expect Kemp to fill a similar role to that of Robel Garcia, who has struggled at the plate after getting off to a hot start with the Cubs after his call-up.
The Cubs added Phelps to their bullpen on Tuesday, and the reliever is still working his way back to full strength after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He has appeared in 17 big league games this season, posting a 3.63 ERA and striking out 18 batters in 17.1 innings with the Blue Jays before being traded to the Cubs.
The Cubs are obviously hoping to get a Jesse Chavez-type renaissance out of Phelps, but it’s far more likely that they’re simply hoping to get a more reliable right-handed set-up arm in their bullpen after trading away Carl Edwards Jr. and placing Pedro Strop on the injured list.
While Edwards was sent to San Diego as a potential ‘change of scenery’ candidate, Wieck will hope to do the same thing with the Cubs. The hurler is a strikeout machine, racking up 31 in 24.2 innings of work this season, but he also has serious control issues, surrendering seven home runs and nine walks this season.
The Cubs will likely use him in low-leverage situations to try to get his confidence back down the stretch, and if his swing-and-miss stuff is effective, he could find his way into favor with Joe Maddon in the closing weeks of the regular season.