However, last night, my attention was seized by our nation's pastime. As the second-half, surging Cubs laid a beat-down on the Bravos for their fourth straight win, the front office was working at full tilt in the lead up to the August 31st deadline. For those who may not be familiar, this is the cut-off point for playoff roster eligibility; so, if your team has a glaring hole, this is the last chance to plug it with anyone outside of the organization.
Furthermore, the rosters also expand the very next morning (aka today), meaning anybody on the 40-man can be called-up as reinforcement for the stretch drive without necessitating a corresponding roster move. Again, the front office was hard at work, determining who should be summoned from Iowa to bolster their crew for the pennant race. Seeing as the flagship of my baseball card collection is based around roster movement, I too was paying attention to these landmarks with great intrigue.
And wow - what a day it was! In the end, the Cubs ended up making a trade; however, it wasn't for the big, sexy name that it seemed everyone in Chicago was dreaming on - Justin Verlander. The longtime Tigers ace (with a no-trade clause) reportedly had the Windy City as his first choice and wielded his clause in order to facilitate a deal to Chi-Town. Unfortunately, the farm system is a bare cupboard after the July trading season and Theo simply lacked the prospect currency needed to entice the Mo-Town franchise. As such, Justin eventually relented and settled for a plane ticket to Houston.
It would have been amazing to have one of my all-time favorite non-Cubs and one of the best hurlers of my generation move to the Second City, but he was a luxury (there are already six capable starters here) that they simply couldn't afford. It's going to be supremely bizarre seeing him suit up in Astros colors.
But enough about what didn't happen; let's talk about what actually did occur:
Like I said, GM Jed Hoyer did pull the trigger on one trade, sending the ubiquitous "player to be named later" or "cash considerations" to Seattle, in exchange for embattled outfielder, Leonys Martin. Once considered a building block for the future, Martin had been worth almost 10 WAR for the Rangers and Mariners as a regular in center since 2013. Unfortunately, this year, his bat absolutely cratered, as his batting average settled well-under the Mendoza line, leading to his being DFA'ed twice by the Mariners throughout the course of 2017.
That said, Leonys still brings an above-average glove and plus-speed to the table, making him a perfect addition to the expanded roster as a defensive replacement and pinch-running specialist. Like I said, it's not a "sexy" deal, but it's a logical and helpful one.
However, most people expected the Cubs to add a shortstop to the mix during yesterday's madness, not an outfielder. Addison Russell, already out for most of August with a foot injury, experienced a setback in his rehab and his status for the rest of the year is in doubt. Javy Baez has been terrific in his stead; but, there simply isn't anyone else on the roster who could slot in at shortstop besides "El Mago." In the end, the Cubbies did end up patching up that hole; that said, they decided to promote from within in this situation.
Mike Freeman, once considered one of the top prospects in the Diamondbacks organization, had been signed early in August, after being cut loose by the Dodgers. Since making his debut last season,he has seen only limited action in the Bigs. In that time, he's bounced from Arizona to Seattle to Los Angeles (to now) Chicago as emergency infield depth. Here's hoping that Mike finally seizes the opportunity to shine... but also that nothing bad happens to Javier!
Freeman has yet to appear on a Major League card, with his only mainstream appearances coming in Pro Debut and Minor League Heritage. Seeing as I rarely ever see these products, let alone buy them, I was fairly certain that, unlike the Cubs, I was going to have to add my Freeman from "outside the org." Imagine my surprise when I discovered the above Bay Bears single sitting in my Diamondback tradeables.
I have bought exactly one pack of 2013 MiLB Heritage in my life and said pack has since provided my first and only cards of both future Cubs Freeman and Eddie Butler for the CATRC - talk about kismet!
Along with the new backup shortstop, coming up from the minors were reliever Justin Grimm and catcher Victor Caratini - all having already spent time in Chicago. However, Freeman still wasn't the only September call-up destined to make his Cubs debut; enter walking human interest story, Dillon Maples.
A former big-time rotation prospect, Maples was handed a hefty 2.5 million signing bonus, back in 2011, to keep him away from a football scholarship in North Carolina. Unfortunately, things never really took off for the power arm, as injuries and immense control problems kept him stuck in the low minors. By the summer of '16, Maples nearly walked away from the game, before a pep talk from his father inspired him to play until "they ripped the jersey off of him." From there, he perfected a cutter and has since risen like a phoenix on a freight train, plowing all the way up from single A to the Majors in a calendar year. He’s struck out 100 batters in 63.1 innings.in 2017, with a 2.27 ERA and a slider that's been described by scouts as being among the best in baseball... not just the minors... all of baseball.
|Maples with the AAA Iowa Cubs, image courtesy of Dylan Heuer/Iowa Cubs|
All in all, everything appears to have suddenly clicked for the former Jim Hendry-era "bust." Hopefully the storybook magic continues at the game's highest level; this strikeout artist would slot into next year's bullpen quite nicely.
Now, as I mentioned earlier, I hardly ever seen Pro Debut, let alone purchase it. However, luckily, Gavin (of Baseball Card Breakdown fame) forwarded me this Kane County Cougars single a little while back; it will slot nicely into my CATRC binder as Maples' representation. Thanks, Gavin!
For now, Martin, Freeman, and Maples are the only completely new additions to be added to the expanded, September rosters. That being acknowledged, there's a chance that a few more names may join them. After all, the Iowa Cubs still have a week left to play in their season and the Big League Cubs can't steal their ENTIRE roster. Chances are, once the AAA campaign ends, a few more relievers will likely jump into the MLB bullpen to provide a bit of respite for the stretch drive.
As you can see, for a roster hound like me, the first week of September is an exciting time. Not even the barely controlled chaos of the first weeks of school can keep my attention from that! Weclome to the CATRC binder, Leonys Martin, Mike Freeman, and Dillon Maples!