Trade deadline stunner: Cubs keep Contreras, Happ

The Cubs trade-deadline moves did not match up with outside expectations.

They dealt relievers David Robertson (Phillies) and Mychal Givens (Mets), as expected. But when the deadline passed at 5 p.m., Willson Contreras and Ian Happ were still on the roster. Both played in Tuesday's game at St. Louis.

Few expected this result because Contreras will be a free agent after the season. But in order to make good deals once in a while, Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer needs to stand his ground if the offers don't meet the ask, right?

“Last year at the deadline, things lined up for us,” Hoyer said. “We had really motivated buyers at the right times. I think this year in some ways makes me realize how fortunate we were last year from a prospect standpoint to be able to accomplish what we did.”

Last year at the deadline, the Cubs moved Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javy Baez at the deadline, and brought back three players that are currently ranked among the team's top six prospects by MLB Pipeline.

“This year, we never exceeded that value,” Hoyer said. “I don't see it as anything going to waste. It really is dependent on who you're talking to and how motivated they are to win a title, bring an all-star caliber player into their clubhouse. This year, we just didn't find that.

“We talk about building the next great Cubs team. We're trying to do that on the back of really good prospects. Simply trading players to say you got prospects you don't believe in or you don't find very talented, that doesn't make anything great at all.”

When the Cubs return to Wrigley Field on Friday, things won't be awkward with Contreras and Happ. But there were some wasted emotions with all the standing ovations and sad goodbyes at the last home game. Contreras and Happ shared an embrace in the dugout after that game, which was supposed to be a symbolic farewell to the team's World Series era.

“We never gave any message to anyone that was like, 'We're going to trade (Contreras) at all costs,'” Hoyer said. “I do feel for him on the emotional toll. Saying goodbye to people, thinking you played your last game with the Cubs. It's not based on any missed messaging from our side. We never said that. We never found a deal that came close to the right value.”

Hoyer didn't want to talk about the possibility of re-signing Contreras and keeping him long-term. But he did acknowledge valuing players with winning experience.

If the Cubs give Contreras a qualifying offer, they'd at least get a draft pick as compensation if he signs with another team. Happ won't be eligible for free agency until after the 2023 season.

The Cubs did acquire a couple of intriguing pitchers in the last two days. In exchange for reliever Scott Effross, the Cubs got right-hander Hayden Wesneski from the Yankees, a starter who might be major-league ready.

For Robertson, they got fast-rising prospect Ben Brown. Baseball America recently upgraded him to the No. 7 prospect in the Phillies organization. He's been a starter this season in High A for Jersey Shore, posting a 3.08 ERA with an impressive 105 strikeouts in 73 innings. Just a few days ago, Brown was promoted to Double A, but didn't get a chance to pitch there.

The 6-foot-6 Long Island native was a 33rd-round draft pick in 2017 out of high school. He reportedly had Tommy John surgery in 2019, didn't play in 2020 due to the pandemic, then struggled in 2021, posting a 6.19 ERA in seven games.

After the trades, MLB Pipeline installed Wesneski as the Cubs' No. 8 prospect and Brown No. 11.

“I'm really proud of where we've come in one year,” Hoyer said. “From last winter until now, I think the depth of our system has is just immeasurably better and I think that bodes exceptionally well for the future.”

For Givens, the Cubs received right-handed pitcher Saul Gonzalez. He posted a 2.81 ERA in the Low A Florida State League, working mostly out of the bullpen. The Puerto Rico native went to high school in Florida and was a 23rd-round draft pick in 2018.

In other moves Tuesday, the Cubs activated Nick Madrigal from the injured list, called up pitchers Michael Rucker and Anderson Espinoza from Iowa, placed pitcher Steven Brault on the COVID list and claimed RHP Kervyn Castro off waivers from the Giants.

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