Chicago Cubs: Continuing to build a youthful core
After the team acquired future All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo, there was a different feel in the chilly Chicago air. It was the first significant transaction under Epstein’s eye. Shortly after that, the Cubs drafted Albert Almora and David Bote. Then a few short weeks later, the team signed Jorge Soler, a projected top-of-the-line international prospect, to a nine-year,$30 million contract.
Of the three, Almora and Bote have worked out very well. Unfortunately for Soler, he never panned out in a Cubs uniform. The bold idea to sign him, however, was a big move by Epstein and the club, showing that he was ready to turn the franchise around completely.
Midway through the 2012 season, the team made another trade, sending an aging Ryan Dempster to the Texas Rangers in exchange for a young kid named Kyle Hendricks and prospect Christian Villanueva. Hendricks, of course, went on to make his debut a couple of years later at the age of 24, posting a ridiculously solid 2.46 ERA in 13 starts. The rest, as they say, is history.
In 2013, the Cubs were coming off a 61-win season. It granted them the number two overall pick in the amateur draft. The team selected Kris Bryant, a big right-handed third baseman out of the University of San Diego. Of everything which has happened since Epstein has been in charge, drafting and signing Bryant is his most significant accomplishment, outside of winning a World Series.
Bryant not only went on to be named the N.L. Rookie of the Year in 2015, but followed that with 2016 NL MVP honors (and a World Series ring). All within two years of making his big league debut. No big deal.
Two more inspiring moves happened under Epstein’s guise in 2013: signing international amateur free-agent Gleyber Torres and trading for Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop. Only 16 years old at the time, Torres ranked as one of the top prospects in baseball. Torres, however, never saw the field as a Cub, as he became the trade chip for the team to acquire Aroldis Chapman a few years later.
Arrieta, meanwhile, became the team’s ace quite quickly. From 2013 to 2017, Arrieta dominated in a Cubs uniform. He carried a 2.73 career ERA with a 24.8 percent strikeout rate and a 3.33 xFIP as a Cub. In 2015, Arrieta won the N.L. Cy Young Award, finishing 22-6 with a 1.77 ERA that season.