CHICAGO -- The Cubs' bid to repeat as World Series champions got a boost on Monday. Their strong start in the second half prompted the front office to make a move, acquiring left-handed reliever Justin Wilson and backup catcher Alex Avila from the Tigers.
The Cubs dipped into their farm system once again, sending top prospect Jeimer Candelario, Class A shortstop Isaac Paredes and a player to be named later or cash to the Tigers in exchange for Wilson and Avila.
At the All-Star break, the Cubs were 5 1/2 games behind the Brewers in the National League Central. The Cubs got a jump on their rivals by acquiring left-hander Jose Quintana from the White Sox on July 13, well before Monday's non-waiver Trade Deadline. Since then, the Cubs are 13-3 and have opened a 2 1/2-game lead over the Brewers.
"I definitely feel we're a stronger team now than before we got Quintana in the middle of the month," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Monday. "We've added three pieces to our team who can really help us. We're going to try to win this division and hopefully beyond that."
Wilson, 29, was 3-4 with a 2.68 ERA in 42 games this season, and holding right-handers to a .131 batting average while lefties were hitting .220 against him. He gives the Cubs another late-inning setup pitcher, something manager Joe Maddon can always use.
"I think [the addition of Wilson] takes a little bit of a burden off a bunch of different guys, which is helpful for Joe," Hoyer said. "Bullpens can get tired in August and September, especially the high-leverage relievers if you're playing well. I think Wilson helps that."
The Cubs did look to acquire more pitching depth, similar to the acquisition one year ago of lefty Mike Montgomery, who can either start or pitch in relief. Hoyer said none of those deals came to fruition.
Wilson, who has 13 saves in 15 chances, is making $2.7 million this year and has one more year of arbitration left on his contract before he becomes a free agent. His addition gives the Cubs three lefty relievers, as he joins Montgomery and Brian Duensing. The Cubs' bullpen ranks second in the National League with a 3.37 ERA.
"I was looking at [Wilson's] game logs, he looks like he's in pretty good shape," Maddon said during a break at his charity golf outing on Monday. "He hasn't been overworked to this point, and that would be the purpose of the program going forward, is to be able to fit him in and not utilize him too often."
Maddon was also happy to get Avila before he teed off.
"This guy's not a backup," Maddon said. "You look at what he's done this year and look at his numbers and his history, and he's young enough to play more often. He's a great complement, an outstanding complement to Willson [Contreras]."
The Cubs have been looking for an experienced catcher to back up Contreras since parting ways with Miguel Montero in late June. The Cubs did promote rookie Victor Caratini, who hit his first Major League home run on Sunday in a 4-2 win over the Brewers. Avila, 30, was batting .271 in 76 games with the Tigers. He will be a free agent after this season.
"Willson plays like the energizer bunny -- we all know that," Hoyer said. "But everyone has their limits and we have to be very careful not to wear him down to make sure he's fresh during the pennant race. We risk him playing too much without going out and making a move like this."
As in the Quintana deal, the Cubs did not have to trade any of the players on their 25-man roster.
"Our focus all along has been to keep this core of players together," Hoyer said. "We believe in them, they've won together, and that was a nice thing for us at the Deadline to keep this group together naturally. I'm glad we could do that."
Candelario, 23, was batting .266 with 12 home runs and 27 doubles in 81 games at Triple-A Iowa. He took over the No. 1 spot on MLB.com's list of Top 30 Cubs prospects when the team dealt Eloy Jimenez for Quintana. Paredes, 18, was ranked No. 10 on MLB.com's list of Cubs prospects.
Fantasy spin | Fred Zinkie (@FredZinkieMLB)
Wilson (2.68 ERA, 0.94 WHIP) should provide helpful ratios for NL-only owners out of a setup role, but he is unlikely to receive the necessary save chances down the stretch to stay on mixed-league rosters. Similarly, Avila can fall to waivers in mixed formats now that he is set for a reserve role behind the hot-hitting Contreras (1.019 OPS in July). Meanwhile in Detroit, Shane Greene (2.74 ERA) should join mixed-league rosters as the likely ninth-inning replacement for Wilson. Although Greene has struggled with his control this season (4.9 BB/9 rate), he has been arguably the most reliable reliever in a Tigers bullpen that ranks last in baseball with a 5.29 ERA.
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.