By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — For Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, it can be scary out on that plank looking into the sea of trading more prospects for more help at another shot at a deep playoff run.
The slippery slope that a front office man must walk down can lead to a dead end or worse — danger ahead for you if you make a Doyle Alexander-for-John Smoltz or Larry Andersen-for-Jeff Bagwell trade.
Of more current concern, bringing in the wrong veteran for a two-month pennant run can blow up momentum and clubhouse togetherness.
“Lateral moves can work against you,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon. “When you do that, you have to be convinced that the move is going to work out. I don’t want to say he has to be better than the guy he may replace, but you need to know he is definitely going to help you win.
“Lateral moves worked against us when I was with the Angels (in 1995). We had an acquisition that misfired and we went backward. We had replacement guys already there that could have done the job just as well. So if you are going to make a move like this right now, it has to be obvious it is going to make you better.
“I know Theo and Jed are on board with that. I know they are actively looking at things and that is great. I said this before — I like the names in our room already. The guys are showing up. You are always looking to tweak it and give you an edge going into August.”
The Cubs’ astute moves last July came in an obvious and not-so-obvious trades. The Cubs dealt a heralded shortstop prospect in Gleyber Torres for closer Aroldis Chapman. It proved to be a slam dunk and crowning move in order to win the World Series.
The addition of Chapman caused an immediate demotion of closer Hector Rondon, whose productivity began to go downhill after that. The trade helped the Cubs organization to its first championship in 108 seasons, so Rondon collateral damage was acceptable when gaining such lofty results. Still, the trouble must be dealt with down the road.
Not so obvious was the Mike Montgomery purchase from the Mariners for slugger Dan Vogelbach. That deal solidified the bullpen from the left side and gave the Cubs a talented arm who could be used in the bullpen or rotation.
Most importantly, Montgomery is a great teammate and understood his role in 2016 and beyond as well. He accepted losing out on a starting pitching role in spring training when Brett Anderson won the fifth rotation spot and went back to his bullpen identity.
“You put some extra pressure on yourself when you go to a team like ours, ” Montgomery said. “Once you get over that phase, you must figure out your role and adjust to it in order to be good at it. Even when I messed up early, Joe and the front office were totally supportive, and that gave me a chance to get back to my level of performance. We got (Jose) Quintana, and he seems like the right guy who has the basic work ethic and mentality to fit right in.”
Ben Zobrist knows well how this works. In 2015, he was the right man for the Royals when they needed the player and character guy to make a run at the World Series.
The World Series MVP for the Cubs in 2016, Zobrist helped Kansas City get to the top a season prior as well.
“The character of the person is a factor,” Zobrist said. “Some guys who need to be the centerpiece of the situation. I think it’s tougher for me. It was a little easier because I have never had that desire to be that person. I just wanted to do my job well and perform well when I played. I never wanted to run a clubhouse. Just do my job well and be a good veteran presence.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.