The Cubs were struggling in the summer of 2003. Sitting just one game over .500 at 50-49, they were treading water in the weak NL Central. Injuries were mounting, and the starting pitching, which had been dominant most of the season, suddenly couldn’t support the slumping offense.
With the trade deadline approaching and the season coming to a crossroads, General Manager Jim Hendry knew he had to make a move to keep the team in contention. On July 22, he acquired centerfielder Kenny Lofton and third baseman Aramis Ramirez from the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Lofton instantly gave the Cubs the leadoff hitter they needed and took over in center for Corey Patterson, a promising second-year player whose season was cut short in early July with a torn ACL. Ramirez, meanwhile, became the franchise’s first quality third baseman since the days of Ron Santo.
The offense immediately improved after the trade. Lofton’s high on-base percentage set the table for the lineup, and Ramirez’s power and run production had become a blessing. The Cubs went 38-25 the rest of the way with both players in the lineup and clipped the Houston Astros by one game to win the NL Central.
Lofton and Ramirez both continued to play well as the Cubs won their first playoff series win in 95 years before the infamous Game 6 against the Florida Marlins. The July 22 deal that brought both players to Chicago would arguably end up being Hendry’s best move as the Cubs’ GM.
Ten years later, Lofton, Ramirez and Hendry are all long gone as the Cubs are in the midst of a massive rebuilding project. After losing 100 games last season, their most since 1966, the Cubs continue to unload their current roster for future prospects.
Exactly ten years after perhaps the franchise’s most lopsided deal in recent memory, the Cubs made another major deal, shipping red-hot starting pitcher Matt Garza to Texas for three minor leaguers–including infielder Mike Olt, a former No. 2 prospect–and possibly a couple more.
Three quality prospects for a possible two-month rental? For a team building for the future, this move was a no-brainer.
Olt, Texas’ first-round draft pick from 2010, has struggled in Triple-A this season hitting only .213, but part of it might be due to vision problems he sustained following a concussion last winter. It’s possible he could be called up in August, but the Cubs are more likely to allow him develop further.
Joining Olt at Triple-A Iowa will be right-hander Justin Grimm, who went 7-7 with a 6.37 ERA in 17 starts this season with the Rangers. In his last start on July 12, he gave up seven runs and 10 hits before being pulled after 3 1/3 innings with right shoulder soreness.
The last prospect included in the deal, for now, is 21-year-old right-hander C.J. Edwards, who will report to Class A Daytona. In 18 games this season, Edwards is 8-2 with a 1.83 ERA and 122 strikeouts.
As part of the deal, the Cubs will also get another player to be named later–or two, depending on who they take.
There are no guarantees that this trade will work out in the long run, and it is unlikely that any player will provide immediate help like Lofton and Ramirez did in ’03. That’s not what the Cubs’ front office intends to do.
The goal is to build a foundation of sustained success, and with four prospects already ranked in the Top 20, the Cubs have a solid plan in place. The losses will continue to pile up at the big-league level for a couple more years, but things will eventually turn around.
Take note, baseball world, the Cubbie Renaissance is well underway.