The Cubs confirmed their status as trade-deadline buyers Monday night, as they bolstered their lineup by acquiring third baseman Jeimer Candelario from the Nationals, one of the best bats on the trade market.
The Cubs also received a cash consideration in the deal, and they sent minor leaguers DJ Herz (MLB Pipeline’s No. 16 Cubs prospect) and Kevin Made (No. 14) to the Nationals. In a separate move announced later Monday, the Cubs traded Nelson Velázquez to the Royals for José Cuas, a 29-year-old right-handed reliever.
“I think it’s just positive reinforcement that we’re doing the right things,” Dansby Swanson had said pregame Monday about the prospect of the front office adding pieces to the roster. “We feel like we can always improve in certain areas, and whether that’s just continuing to get better or maybe you add a piece or two here or there, it just kind of boosts the morale”
Before the first game of the Cubs’ previous homestand, Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer laid out part of the criteria for what the front office needed to see before deciding which direction to go at the trade deadline. Hoyer and Co. came into the season with the goal of competing for a playoff spot all season, but considering the position the Cubs were in at the time — 42-47, seven games back in the National League Central — Hoyer laid out a simple challenge: close in on .500, and gain ground in the division standings.
The Cubs responded with one of their best runs of the season, winning 11 of their first 15 games after the All-Star break — including eight-game winning streak. That got them to two games over .500 after Saturday’s win in St. Louis. Despite now dropping the last two games following a 6-5 loss to the Reds on Monday, they’ll still be a .500 ballclub by the time the deadline rolls around at 5 p.m. Tuesday with a front office intent on making a playoff push.
And after two years of selling off trade chips at the deadline, keeping the group together and adding to it, too, is something the players will gladly welcome.
“Just an awesome run for this group to put ourselves right back in the conversation and get some more players to help make a push,” Ian Happ said. “It’ll be very exciting to put the group together and then make a run at this thing. I think that’s what all of us in this clubhouse really want is to have a chance to go play for the division. I think we have the guys in the room to do it, and we’re excited that Jed and the front office are adding on.”
The 29-year-old Candelario currently leads all NL third baseman with 3.1 wins above replacement (per FanGraphs). Candelario hit .258 with 16 home runs, 53 RBIs and an .823 OPS in 99 games with the Nationals this season, joining the team last winter on a one-year, $5 million deal after he was non-tendered by the Tigers in November.
Happ was actually a teammate of Candelario’s as recently as six years ago, when the two was were both with Triple-A Iowa. Candelario debuted on July 3, 2016 (MLB Pipeline ranked him No. 7 in the system that season), but he only played 16 major league games for the Cubs before he was traded to the Tigers at the deadline in 2017 along with Isaac Paredes for Alex Avila and Justin Wilson.
Over the following six seasons, Candelario played in 590 games for Detroit, manning mostly third base in that time, before joining Washington for 2023. On his career, Candelario has hit .243 with a .737 OPS, 82 home runs and 301 RBIs.
Candelario is a switch-hitter, which will provide Cubs manager David Ross the ability to feature him in lineups against both right-handed and left-handed pitchers. He owns a 121 wRC+ overall in 2023 (134 versus righties, 91 versus lefties) with a .223 isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average, per FanGraphs, which measures how often a batter hits for extra bases), so he’ll add a reliable bat with slug to a Cubs lineup that has lacked consistent power this season (team’s .155 ISO heading into Monday ranked 20th in Major League Baseball).
Defensively, Candelario is having his one of his best seasons at the hot corner. His six outs above average (career high) and one defensive runs saved (tied for No. 2 in his career) both rank in the top five among qualified NL third basemen. He’s not likely to take home the Gold Glove, but the Cubs are hoping he’ll be continue to man that spot well. Ross elected not to discuss how exactly he expects Candelario to be used, but with playing time opportunities at both first base (where he’s played 518 career innings) and designated hitter, the defensive lineup could have some variability based on matchups.
“To be able to put up the numbers he’s been putting up this year and be able to come over here and help us out, that’s huge,” said Ross of Candelario, who he first got to know as teammates during 2015 Cubs spring training. “I know him just as a person. Great human being, and obviously, the player he’s been and having a really good season. Happy to get him back.”
Meanwhile, Cuas had a 4.54 ERA in 45 games this season for the Royals, striking out 52 batters while walking just 21 in 41 2/3 innings. Happ said he saw videos of “sidearm sliders that looked pretty gross” and likened Cuas somewhat to former Cub Scott Effross, in terms of his delivery.
It was unclear Monday whether the Cubs would start him in the big league bullpen or at Triple-A — he does still have options left — but at the very least, he’ll provide bullpen depth.
“I think they’re trying to add as much as we possibly can to help the club,” Ross said.”He’s a guy that they identified. He’s got some options, and he’s got some some things that I know look pretty nasty. A three-quarter delivery, sinker-slider, real stuff. I think he can help us. We’ll see in what capacity.”
The Cubs aren’t expected to make any major splashes on the trade market before the deadline. Even Candelario, despite being one of the better bats on the market, is on an expiring deal and cost two minor leaguers who have a real shot at the majors someday but were only part of the strong depth in the system rather than two of the Cubs’ upper-tier prospects.
They’re also hovering under the $233 million luxury tax threshold — FanGraphs has them at a little over $228 million — and it’s unlikely they go past it at this deadline.
Still, adding two pieces Monday was a signal from the front office that they want to give this group a chance post-trade deadline. And with time left to swing another deal or two to help shore up the edges of the roster (maybe another strong bullpen arm?), the Cubs are looking forward to getting that opportunity over the last two months of the year.
“We definitely appreciate that and we’re excited about what that holds,” Nico Hoerner said. “Obviously, a big series right here [against the Reds], but just excited to see what that group looks like over the course of two months and play our best baseball.”