Nearly twenty-five years later, Chicago baseball fans still remember the ‘White Flag’ trade. Sitting just three games behind the AL Central-leading Tigers, on July 31, 1997, the White Sox sent starting pitchers Wilson Alvarez, Danny Darwin, and closer Roberto Hernandez to the SF Giants for six minor league prospects. Trading away 40% of the team’s rotation and its 2nd all-time saves leader with nearly two months left in the season is still considered one of the lowest points, if not the lowest, for owner Jerry Reinsdorf.
Flash forward to last summer. While the Cubs didn’t have a ‘White Flag’ trade of their own, they did what can only be described one way: Purge.
And just like the cult classic, the Cubs core was dismantled over 24 hours. First, it was All-Star first baseman and Gold Glove winner Anthony Rizzo, traded to the Yankees. Next, it was All-Star Javy Baez, a magician in the field, sent across the Hudson to the Mets.
Finally, former MVP Kris Bryant went to the Giants. The 2016 Cubs World Series core was no more.
But change brings new opportunity, and for a handful of Cubs, that meant significant playing time. First baseman Frank Schwindel, a July waiver wire pickup, finished the season with a .342 average and 13 home runs in 56 games. Outfielder Rafael Ortega hit .291 with 11 home runs and 12 stolen bases over 103 games.
The big question coming into this season: could they repeat last year’s success? Let’s check in on the top post-purge Cubs from the previous year – and what their future looks like with the club.
FRANK SCHWINDEL, First Baseman
- Frank Schwindel came out of nowhere to become the National League Rookie of the Month in August and NL Player of the Week for the first week of September. His slash line of .342 / .389 / .613 in 2021 would put him in All-Star consideration on an annual basis. But 2022 hasn’t been as kind for Schwindel, currently sporting a .239 / .284 / .389 slash line. He was even sent to AAA Iowa for a short stint in May. Schwindel has been better since his return and does have eight home runs, but without a second-half surge, it’s going to be hard to see him as the Cubs everyday first baseman in 2023.
RAFAEL ORTEGA, Outfielder
- Like Schwindel, Ortega burst onto the scene as a relative no-name and hit nearly .300 over 103 games. Mixing power and speed, Ortega began 2022 as the Cubs opening day leadoff hitter. After a brutally slow start to the season, Ortega is now hitting .264 with an on-base percentage near last year’s clip. However, Ortega’s power and speed numbers are well below previous years. In over half the at-bats as last year, Ortega has just three home runs. His total hits, runs, and stolen bases are all behind last year’s pace. Like Schwindel, unless Ortega has a solid second half, his starting days for the Cubs are likely numbered.
MICHAEL HERMOSILLO, Outfielder
- While not quite in the same post-purge all-star category as Ortega and Schwindel, the 26-year-old (28th round pick by the Angels) did flash some pop last year, clubbing three long balls in 16 games. Hermosillo made the Cubs roster out of the spring training, but that’s where the good news ends. His two hits in 35 plate appearances translated to a .071 batting average. Hermosillo hit .306 in AAA last year, but his Cubs honeymoon is over, at least for now.