How the Cubs, Indians and Yankees turned the deadline upside down

ByJayson Stark ESPN logo
Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Wait. What just happened here? I had the craziest dream. I dreamed we just saw a trade deadline where the Cubs and Indians went for it -- and meanwhile, the biggest sellers in baseball were . . . hold on, this can't be right . . . the Yankees?

Yeah, it feels like a dream. But I'm pretty sure that just happened. And if it did, you know what that means? It means the world has officially turned upside-down. And it's going to take a little while to digest that.

The Chicago Cubs made a series of deals that sent a clear message: This is the year. The Cleveland Indians made a trade for Andrew Miller that sent the same message: Our time is now. And the New York Yankees unloaded at the deadline instead of loading up -- for the first time in almost 30 years. Wow. Did I just write that paragraph?

"No one has ever said those words," said one incredulous scout Monday, as the deadline dust was settling. "No one has ever typed those sentences. It's amazing."

Said those words? Typed those sentences? Heck, no one has ever lived on that planet.

But every season, the earth keeps spinning. And now it has spun us into this unfamiliar place -- where the Cubs and Indians look like your official World Series favorites . . . and the Yankees are saying, "Wait till next year." Or, "Wait till whenever it is we can finish clearing about $7 billion in ugly contracts off our payroll," anyway.

Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and the Cubs attacked the deadline like Michael Jordan once attacked the rim. Saw they needed to build a bullpen that could protect a one-run lead in October -- and bam, reeled in Aroldis Chapman, Joe Smith and Mike Montgomery.

"That's why Theo is a Hall of Famer," said one rival executive afterward. "He recognized it. And he did it."

A few hundred miles to the east, the Indians of Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff were following the same script. They paid a huge price (and took on big dollars) to go get Andrew Miller. But it isn't just their bullpen that isn't the same because of it. It's their clubhouse -- and their whole city. Which was already buzzing with LeBron Fever.

"Now they're like that high school football team that goes running through the hoop before the kickoff," said the same exec. "They just busted through that hoop and they're going for it."

Meanwhile, the Yankees of Brian Cashman had to make a totally different decision, but one just as momentous. It was their time, all right -- their time to move on, move veterans and move forward. Once they were through dealing away Chapman, Miller and Carlos Beltran, they suddenly had a system with six of Keith Law's top 50 prospects in baseball. And if it hurts YES ratings for a couple of months, whatever. At least now, they can see the future.

"As difficult as it was for Brian Cashman to do what he did," said another longtime executive, "he did the right thing. They've played over 100 games. They were a .500 team. The game tells you who you are. And that's what they were - a .500 team."

But prospects give the Yankees something else, too -- a reminder that in baseball, not all the currency can be measured in dollar bills.

"They still have money," said a third exec. "So this winter, if they want to spend money to sign a closer -- say, Kenley Jansen -- they'll always be able to do that. But now they also have prospects as currency. And I fully expect they'll take that currency and use it this winter to make deals, at a time when there isn't much in free agency."

But we can reflect more on the details of what just happened and where it's leading some other time. Right now, I think it's more important to reflect on the bigger picture here.

To the people who run these teams, the trade deadline isn't some giant rumor fest, the way it is for you and me. It's an important moment in time. It's a moment where the best GMs in the business don't just weigh who they're trading and what they're giving up. They're men who need to have a special feel for the meaning of this moment. And it's that feel that leads to the most powerful decisions they can make.

"The biggest thing we talk about," said one of the execs quoted above, "is that you truly never know. You don't know what's going to happen next year. So I think it's important to know when it's time to make those decisions. The worst thing you can do sometimes is worry about the future. When your team is good enough, the only thing you can really worry about is now. And sometimes that means you have to just go for it."

Knowing when that time has arrived isn't a skill these guys can learn in some Sports Management school. It's more like a sixth sense, a voice only they can hear that points them toward doing things they might not ordinarily do. But they have to be listening to hear it.

"It comes to you in a quiet moment," said another of the veteran execs quoted above, "where you figure out, 'This is what I have to do.' But you owe it to your organization to do what you did. You owe it to your players. You owe it to your fans. And you owe it to yourself. But if you're honest with yourself, you do know it. People know what needs to be done."

It's what Dayton Moore did in Kansas City last July. We know how that worked out. It's what Alex Anthopoulos did in Toronto last July. We know how that worked out. It's what Sandy Alderson did in New York. We know how that worked out.

Those men didn't simply make baseball deals. They made "This Is Our Moment" deals. And this July, it was the Cubs' and Indians' turn to make those moves.

But one team has been waiting over a century for its moment to arrive. The other has been waiting more than half a century. So it's a message that had to be delivered loudly and emphatically enough for everyone to hear -- and understand what they just heard.

So I can't say this loudly enough: The tuned-in people who run the Cubs and Indians just told the world: "Our time is now." And it wasn't a dream. It happened. In real life. With real earth-rattling deals involving real people.

It's the Cubs' year? It's the Indians' year? And those things are happening in the same year? Holy Rocky Colavito. The planet we live on just spun in a way no living human has ever witnessed before. So we might have to call this the coolest trade deadline ever -- just as soon as we process what happened.

"Yeah, think how crazy that is," said one of the execs quoted above. "And think about special it is."

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