Chicago Cubs: Looking back at the Fred McGriff trade

Fred McGriff (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Allsport)
Fred McGriff (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Allsport) /

The Chicago Cubs had to do everything in their power to acquire left-handed slugger Fred McGriff from Tampa Bay in 2001. Even then, it was barely enough.

Some fans might forget about that 2001 team. Those Chicago Cubs finished with the same number of wins (88) as the 2003 squad), and also featured a second-half collapse after the All-Star break.

One of the more notable moments of that season came in July when the Cubs made a concerted push to land the “Crime Dog” for the team formerly known as the Devil Rays.

Despite being in the final years of his career, Fred McGriff was still one of the best hitters in baseball. He slashed .318/.387/.536 with 19 homers in 97 games with the Devil Rays.

Tampa Bay was one of the worst teams in baseball in 2001, while the Cubs held the National League Central division lead heading towards the trade deadline. This seemed like the perfect opportunity for an aging McGriff to get another shot at a World Series ring.

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But McGriff did not want to leave his hometown club, and his no-trade clause prevented any potential deal from taking place.

McGriff had previously determined he would finish his career in Tampa after arriving from Atlanta ahead of the 1998 season. Given he had just a few years left, McGriff figured to ride comfortably into the sunset.

However, former Cubs GM Andy MacPhail sweetened the pot. The Cubs negated what had been a vested option by offering McGriff a full player option for the 2002 season as well as a mutual option in 2003.

Having caught the big fish, the Cubs seemed primed for a postseason run. Indeed, McGriff had a .942 OPS and 12 homers in 49 games with Chicago. But as McGriff ascended, the Cubs nosedived. The Cubs went a combined 23-28 in August and September, finishing the year five games back of the Houston Astros and St. Louis Cardinals.

For his part, McGriff slugged .662 with eight homers in September, but Chicago’s lineup could not overcome the pitching woes.

Kerry Wood pitched just once in August, and Julian Tavarez went from dependable fifth starter to total battering ram. Team ace Jon Lieber also struggled immensely down the stretch, though he somehow went 3-1 in six starts in September and October despite boasting a 5.80 ERA.

Having come up short in 2001, the team hoped to right the ship in 2002, especially given they would have McGriff for a full year. But the team flopped once again.

A 38-year-old McGriff posted a .858 OPS and 125 OPS+ to go along with 30 homers and 103 runs batted in, and Sammy Sosa had one of his last great years.

But Chicago’s bullpen was a nightmare–particularly the closer situation–and the offense ranked just 11th in the NL in runs scored. The result was a 67-95 record, three different managers and MacPhail’s departure.

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McGriff would depart for the Los Angeles Dodgers that winter and the Cubs would go on to have one of the most memorable seasons in franchise history the very next season.

“Crime Dog” has seen his fair share of injustice through the years, including being an arguable snub for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

But–having given every ounce of what he had left–McGriff’s years with the Cubs are a reminder of just how cruel baseball can sometimes be.