Throughout July we're going to present 30 deals in 30 days: the best trade deadline deal ever made by each team. We've covered the AL East, NL East and AL Central so far, and are now on the NL Central.
THE TEAM: Chicago Cubs
THE YEAR: 2003
THE SITUATION: The Cubs had expected to be contenders in 2002, a year earlier, but had played poorly throughout the season. This led to wholesale changes on both the player front and in the front office. In mid-2002, Jim Hendry was promoted from assistant general manager to general manager and promptly hired Dusty Baker in the offseason to lead the Cubs. The Cubs had a young promising rotation of Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Matt Clement and Carlos Zambrano. The efficient but unspectacular lineup needed a boost to push the Cubs to the playoffs. Come mid-June, the Cubs could be found deep in a hot division race.
THE TRADE: After Aramis Ramirez broke out the power bat in 2001 for 34 home runs, the Pirates saw reduced production from him in 2002, then again in 2003 as he was slow in providing them the tremendous power that he'd shown just two seasons earlier. The Pirates fell out of contention fast and looked to move the third baseman for multiple parts. The Cubs had Mark Bellhorn starting at third but had traded him to the Colorado Rockies in early June for Ramon Hernandez. Bellhorn was expected to provide power from the hot corner after hitting 27 home runs in 2002 but had managed only two by the time he left the Cubs. The Cubs were in desperate need of power to protect Sammy Sosa. The Cubs sent Bobby Hill, minor leaguer Matt Bruback and a player to be named later (Jose Hernandez) to the Pirates for Ramirez and Kenny Lofton.
THE AFTERMATH: Ramirez spurred the Cubs to the National League Championship Series against the Marlins. He watched from third as left fielder Moises Alou made a feeble attempt to catch a ball along the stands, and as shortstop Alex Gonzalez booted a routine grounder; the Cubs lost in seven games. The greatest thing the Cubs received was a star third baseman for nine years, the best one Cubs fans had seen since the multitalented and sensational Ron Santo. Ramirez went on in his Cubs career to hit .294 with .887 OPS, hitting 239 home runs for the North Siders and producing 806 RBIs. The Cubs also received Lofton, who provided 1.8 wins above replacement in his half-season with the Cubs. In the trade the Cubs made a net gain of 25.3 WAR. This is the trade that got the Cubs so close to the World Series they could taste it. They had not been that close since 1945.
--Holden Clark, The View from the Bleachers