In their follow-up to a drought-ending championship season in 2016, things haven't been going all that smoothly this year for the Cubs. They entered the All Star break with a record below .500, trailing Milwaukee by a sizable margin in the NL Central.
Theo Epstein and Co. weren't content waiting until the deadline to do something about it. On Thursday, they made their move, sending a package of top prospects across town in exchange for coveted White Sox lefty Jose Quintana.
The starter's general appeal is obvious: he has been a tremendously consistent and durable stud atop the Sox rotation. In each of the past four seasons he has made 32-plus starts and thrown over 200 innings, accumulating a 3.35 ERA and 3.34 FIP during that span. He has a team-friendly contract running through 2020.
It's also clear why the Cubs wanted him; their once-vaunted rotation has lacked standout performers with Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta taking steps backward, and with Kyle Hendricks missing the last five weeks (he's expected to return next weekend).
Quintana's outstanding work has produced a disappointing 50-54 career record, so we're excited to see what he can do with a high-powered offense backing him. He had an oddly pedestrian first half for the White Sox but should be rejuvenated by a pennant hunt.
The acquisition was costly for the Cubs, who had to give up one of the game's better prospects in outfielder Eloy Jimenez and a very promising arm in Dylan Cease, as well as a couple other pieces.
* As the second half gets underway, several key players have either returned from lengthy DL stints or are on the verge of doing so.
The biggest name, of course, is Mike Trout. Out since the end of May with a torn thumb ligament, he was back on the field for the Angels Friday night, going 1-for-5 with a steal. Looks like all systems are go.
Also activated for Friday's action was Chris Davis, who's been absent from the Orioles lineup since straining his oblique a month ago. He went 1-for-5 with a double for Baltimore on Friday. Eduardo Nunez is back as well after missing nearly a month with a hamstring strain; he also went 1-for-5 with a double in his return.
* Madison Bumgarner is set to make his long-awaited return on Saturday night. He struck out eight over six innings in a rehab start at Single-A on Monday so it looks like he's on track to hit the ground running. The Giants announced that Matt Cain will be moving to the bullpen in order to make room for Bumgarner, meaning Ty Blach will stick around in the San Fran rotation.
* Tough blow for the Yankees: Michael Pineda was diagnosed with a partial UCL tear, and is expected undergo Tommy John surgery soon. He'll miss the rest of the season and most of 2018. For now, New York will replace Pineda with Luis Cessa, who offers minimal fantasy intrigue, but if they decide to call up Chance Adams (2.50 ERA, 10 K/9 at Triple-A) pitching-needy owners need to pay attention.
* Continuing to bolster his trade value, Sonny Gray fired six scoreless innings in a win over Cleveland on Friday night, after some pre-game rumblings that a trade might actually be going down. It was his fourth straight quality start as the right-hander continues to enjoy a resurgent campaign. It would be surprising if the Yankees don't make a hard push for him.
Reports suggest that the Mariners aren't keen on dealing Cruz, but they'll need to seriously consider the idea. They've slipped to fourth place in the AL West and he is heading into the final year of his contract. Many contenders would surely love to add his power bat and at 37, Cruz doesn't necessarily fit with a future-focused timeline in Seattle.
It sounds like Gordon is already generating significant interest, with Jon Heyman listing the Angels, Blue Jays and Royals as three clubs asking on the speedy second baseman. He's on pace to finish with nearly 60 stolen bases.
* Colby Rasmus hasn't played since mid-June due to a hip injury, and now appears to be done for the year. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reported this week that Rasmus is stepping away from the game and won't be back until next year at the earliest. It's a shame because the 30-year-old outfielder was enjoying a career year before he got hurt. Hopefully everything is OK with him personally.
Steven Souza, Mallex Smith and Corey Dickerson will continue to occupy the Tampa outfield as regulars from here on out.
* The American League beat the National League on Tuesday in a rare All Star pitchers' duel that extended into extra innings. Robinson Cano lifted the AL to victory with a homer in the 10th, and Andrew Miller picked up the save. We'll see if Miller continues to siphon ninth-inning chances away from Cody Allen in Cleveland as action gets underway again.
* A night earlier, Aaron Judge outlasted Miguel Sano in the Home Run Derby, putting on a prodigious power display that was very familiar after he bashed 30 homers over the first 84 games in New York. We're not expecting him to slow up much the rest of the way.