The Milwaukee Brewers stole the spotlight (and their fans’ best hopes of the playoffs) by trading Josh Hader to the San Diego Padres the day before the trade deadline last summer — as Juan Soto-to-the-Padres buzz intensified into deadline day.
But overshadowed by the furor of those headlines and a dozen other sexier trades and rumors was a smaller, unexpected trade that day between the New York Yankees and Chicago Cubs that looks eight months later like the biggest 2022 deadline trade most baseball fans never heard about.
And it might even alter the look of the National League Central by the time all’s said and done this season.
“I’m always trying to prove something. I’m not supposed to be here. If you look at the percentages, sixth-round guys don’t make it to the big leagues very often, so I’m still trying to prove things. I’m a little edgy.”
That’s right-hander Hayden Wesneski talking to Patrick Mooney of The Athletic on a recent day this spring.
That’s the guy who has pitched better than any Chicago Cubs starter in camp this year, riding an exceptional slider, good velocity and a veteran’s approach to what’s expected to be a first career job on an Opening Day roster, in the Cubs’ rotation.
Hayden Wesneski’s unexpected rise on Chicago Cubs roster
That wasn’t necessarily expected when camp opened, despite an attention-grabbing September debut for the Cubs.
And nobody saw this lanky, nervous-energy kid as part of the competitive plan in 2022 when the Yankees came calling last summer for reliever Scott Effross, a rookie who had reinvented his career a few years earlier with a more sidearm delivery and who was toiling as one of the better performing relievers in the NL for one of its worst teams.
“Aggressive” is how Chicago Cubs president Jed Hoyer described the sudden market for Effross as he shopped veteran relievers Chris Martin, Mychal Givens and David Robertson, all of whom had been signed with deadline trades in mind — as the Cubs had done with a trio of late-inning relievers a year earlier.
Gordon Wittenmyer, MLB expert and former beat writer for NBC Sports Chicago and the Chicago Sun-Times. Get Gordon’s latest Sportsnaut Exclusive today!
With so much club control left, Effross looked more like a piece of what Hoyer likes to call his “next great Cubs team” than a trade piece. Until teams got “aggressive.”
“We just felt like the ability to add a really talented starting pitching prospect made a lot of sense,” Hoyer said.
Wesneski was in Triple-A at the time, debuted for the Chicago Cubs a month later and produced a 2.18 ERA in 33 innings down the stretch, finishing with four turns in the rotation.
He still looked like an unlikely member of the Opening Day roster after Hoyer spent more than $300 million to restock his roster, including contracts for starters Jameson Taillon and Drew Smyly.
Now Wesneski looks like the best-case scenario for the Chicago Cubs if they want to make enough noise in the NL Central to challenge the pitching-rich Brewers and defending-champ St. Louis Cardinals.
How Cubs rotation will look
Wesneski, 25, would earn the spot over journeyman Adrian Sampson, who has performed at a career-high level since joining the Cubs in 2021, and prospect Javier Assad, the hard-throwing World Baseball Classic stalwart for Team Mexico. Assad likely will wind up in the bullpen.
After back-to-back losing seasons, it would give the Cubs the following rotation:
- Right-hander Marcus Stroman
- Left-hander Justin Steele
- Right-hander Taillon
- Left-hander Smyly
Waiting in the wings for a season debut that’s looking increasingly likely to be right on time in May is three-time Opening Day starter Kyle Hendricks, who has made progress without setback this spring in a shoulder rehab program.
That makes Sampson and Assad depth behind that.
It doesn’t have the front-end quality of the Brewers’ Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff. And the Cubs don’t have the firepower in the lineup of the Cardinals’ Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, or the Cardinals’ overall defensive prowess — even with significant upgrades to all position areas this spring.
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But Wesneski, that sixth-round pick out of Sam Houston State in 2019, has the kind of stuff and poise to pitch like he belongs at the front end of that rotation.
Which might one day — this year? — make the best trade of last summer that nobody’s heard of the most impactful trade of last summer, period.
Gordon Wittenmyer covers Major League Baseball for Sportsnaut. You can follow him on Twitter at @GDubCub.