On This Date in 2012: The Cubs acquire Anthony Rizzo
(Photo by Stephen Green)
It could be argued that a trade made three years ago today was the first move toward making the Cubs the dark-horse division contender many view them as heading into the 2015 season.
In an effort to reclaim a first basemen they originally selected in the 2007 draft while with Boston, the recently hired President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer acquired first baseman Anthony Rizzo and right-hander Zach Cates from San Diego in exchange for right-hander Andrew Cashner and outfielder Kyung-Min Na.
Initially, it looked like the Cubs may have surrendered the better portion of the deal in Cashner, a power arm with ace potential who, despite dealing with arm issues in 2011 that caused him to miss most of the season, showed promise in his 2010 rookie campaign. The bulk of the Cubs’ return rested in a 21-year-old power hitter who hit a mere .141/.281/.527 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with one homer in 49 games in his major league debut season in San Diego after enjoying a successful minor league campaign.
Rizzo rebounded in 2012, hitting .285/.342/.463 with 15 homers in 87 major league games. Meanwhile Cashner pitched in just 46.1 innings, as a strained lat kept him out for a large portion of the year.
By many accounts, the Cubs’ first basemen regressed in his first full season in the majors in 2013. His average plummeted to .233, and he hit only eight more home runs than he hit the previous season in 73 more games. That didn’t deter the Cubs from giving him a team-friendly, seven-year, $41 million extension in May of that year.
Cashner on the other hand, enjoyed his finest season, pitching 175.0 innings in 26 starts for San Diego. He struck out 128 batters and finished with a 1.13 WHIP and a 10-9 record.
The debate over who got the better end of the deal shifted back in the Cubs’ favor during the 2014 season. Rizzo made his first All-Star team and hit a career-best .286/.386/.527 with 32 home runs, which ranked second-best in the NL. His .913 OPS ranked third in the league.
Cashner also enjoyed a successful season—when he wasn’t on the DL. Shoulder issues limited the 28-year-old to just 19 starts, but he did post a 2.55 ERA, a 1.127 WHIP and 93 strikeouts over 123.1 innings.
When discussing two players who haven’t even exited their respective team-controlled years, it’s difficult to determine which organization “won” the trade. But based on Rizzo’s efforts in 2014, it’s safe to say that’s the kind of production the Cubs expected when they pulled the trigger on the move.
With so many variables, debating whether one player is better than another is a difficult proposition. And there few numbers that properly correlate when arguing hitter versus pitcher. However, based solely on the statistic WAR (wins against replacement), it looks as if the Cubs have enjoyed more productivity out of their return in each of the past three seasons.
According to Baseball-Reference, Rizzo recorded a bWAR of 5.1 in 2014, 2.8 in 2013 and 2.2 in 2012, while Cashner’s bWAR totals were 1.9, 2.4 and -0.1 in those same seasons. While the lofty total Rizzo accumulated last year should come as no surprise, the most interesting comparison might be in 2013.
To date, this is the cleanest single-season sample size we have of Cashner. After recovering from an early-season thumb issue, the oft-injured right-hander was never on the disabled list, pitching a career-high 175.0 innings and finishing with a 3.09 ERA (11th in the NL) and a 1.13 WHIP (12th). In a mid-September game against Pittsburgh, Cashner faced the minimum in a complete-game one-hitter. The only thing that slowed the then 27-year-old was an organization-sanctioned pitch limit.
Opposite those statistics were Rizzo’s numbers: .233/.323/.419 with 23 homers and 40 doubles. Though not bad, it left some to question whether his strong 2012 was just a flash in the pan or if the first baseman reaped the benefits of opposing teams not having seen him. Despite all the concerns, according to WAR, Rizzo was still a more valuable player than Cashner, a player enjoying the finest season of his young career.
Even though WAR embodies a variety of stats, it’s only one measurement to determine a player’s worth. On that same note, it is a stat that embodies a variety of stats and one of the quickest ways to quantify a player’s value. Only time will tell as to which of the super-talented players finishes with a better career, but three years after the transaction, early signs point toward the Cubs’ slugger. As the Cubs continue to be a trendy postseason pick, look no further than the move made three years ago today as that belief’s ignition.