There has been a plethora of huge team turnarounds in sports history. The St. Louis Rams went from 4-12 in 1998 to 13-3 in 1999. The Boston Celtics posted a 24-58 record in the 2006-07 season to having a 66-16 record in 2007-08. However, one of the most notable turnarounds can be found in the north-side of Chicago. The Chicago Cubs put a 71 win team on the field in 2011. That ensuing offseason, the Cubs hired one of the greatest masterminds in the game of baseball. Formerly the Red sox President, Theo Epstein agreed on a five-year contract in October of 2011. From there, Epstein built the Cubs from the ground up via trades and free agent signings to be a consistent postseason contender beginning in 2015.
The Anthony Rizzo deal was the first major trade performed by the Epstein regime and is one of the biggest transactions of his tenure. Rizzo was drafted by the San Diego Padres in 2007 by, now Cubs GM, Jed Hoyer. On January 6, 2012, the All-Star first baseman was brought to Chicago along with RHP Zach Cates for RHP Andrew Cashner and OF Kyung-Min Na. This was a win for the Cubs. Cashner was an under-performing starting pitcher and Rizzo has transformed into an MVP candidate and face of the franchise for the Cubs alongside Kris Bryant.
As cool as the other side of the pillow. Kyle Hendricks emerged as a reliable, middle of the rotation starter when he made his major league debut with the Cubs in 2014. Hendricks was sent from the Lone Star state to the Windy City along with 3B Christian Villanueva for Cubs veteran SP Ryan Dempster. Interestingly enough, prior to a deal with the Rangers, the Cubs had agreed on terms with the Atlanta. But Dempster had the right to veto the trade, which he did. If Dempster had not vetoed the trade to Atlanta, the Cubs would not have Cy Young Award contender Kyle Hendricks.
Thanks to an 101-loss season prior to the 2013 draft, the Cubs held the second overall selection. With the Houston Astros taking RHP Mark Appel, the Cubs were left with taking superstar third baseman Kris Bryant. Bryant flew through the minor leagues and earned Rookie of the Year in his first year of big league ball in 2015. He followed that up by becoming National League MVP in 2016 while winning the Cubs first World Series since 1908.
This trade turned out to be one of the most lopsided trade, possibly, in the history of baseball. Just by looking at this trade, you can tell the Cubs came out on top from it. The Cubs acquired SP Jake Arrieta and RP Pedro Strop from the Orioles for catcher Steve Clevenger and SP Scott Feldman. Arrieta was struggling at the time of the trade but developed into a Cy Young Award winning pitcher and Strop has become one of the best setup men in baseball. On the other hand, you really haven’t heard much about Clevenger or Feldman. This trade goes to the Cubs.
This acquisition is an interesting one because one of the players the Cubs traded ended up coming back to the team in free agency in the ensuing offseason. The Cubs traded away two MLB pitchers in Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija for the likes of former first round draft picks Addison Russell and Billy McKinney, SP Dan Straily, and cash considerations. Russell has turned into an all star shortstop and McKinney ended up being traded with others for flame thrower Aroldis Chapman.
In December of 2014, the Cubs signed probably the most sought after free agent of that offseason. Jon Lester has performed how the Cubs wanted him to. Being a Cy Young candidate year after year, Lester will be at the top of the Cubs rotation this year along with Jose Quintana.
Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward
I am combining these two because of their defensive value and how well these two guys play. Heyward is at the top of the list in defensive runs saved every year and Zobrist can play nearly every position on the field. These are two huge names in baseball and their play has boosted the Cubs to be a consistent World Series contender. As a reminder, Zobrist did hit a key double to help the Cubs take the lead in the 10th inning of the 2016 World Series.
Now there were a lot of mixed reactions from this trade. On one side, you have the crowd who loves the trade because the Cubs just got a dominating and well known closing pitcher. On the other side, many people are angry because Theo Epstein traded away their top prospect, Gleyber Torres, for a rental relief pitcher. But in the end, Chapman boosted the Cubs in winning a World Series so who could be upset about that?
It took a whopping 56 transactions in total to build a World Series winning roster. But in the end, the Cubs ended a 108 year World Series drought. I don’t think any Cubs fan would complain about that. The Theo Epstein effect can turn around a whole organization in a matter of just a few years.