CHICAGO -- To the surprise of the Chicago Cubs, the process ended with a single word, instead of two: eligible.
The Cubs' brass was used to seeing "not eligible" while putting in waiver claims this month, but on this day -- a week ago Sunday -- general manager Jed Hoyer and the rest of the front office saw only that one word. They had just won the claim for Daniel Murphy and had 48 hours to work out a deal with the Washington Nationals.
"We got the bulletin that we were awarded the claim for Murphy," Hoyer said earlier this week. "We were surprised, obviously the way he was hitting, and also, it's been a year, where for the most part, if we put in somewhere between one and eight or nine claims every day, we've generally been getting zero."
In fact, the Cubs put in a claim for several Nationals, including outfielder Bryce Harper, after Washington collapsed in the standings in recent days. Ironically, a walk-off grand slam by rookie David Bote -- against the Nationals -- hastened Washington's sell-off. Somehow, someway, Murphy got all the way to Chicago, as teams make claims based on record, from worst to first. Thirteen National League teams passed on Murphy before the Cubs saw that word.
"When you put in a claim, you get a bulletin like a half-hour after the waiver period expires, and they tell you who you're eligible for," Hoyer said. "It says eligible and not eligible. In this case we were eligible. In most cases we were not eligible."
It was just two days earlier that the Cubs first saw Murphy's name -- and Harper's -- on the waiver wire. Teams place players on waivers all the time with the ability to pull them back.
"Every day the waiver bulletin comes out, and we have a series of emails that goes around the office," Hoyer said. "Usually at some point in the morning, we have a quick meeting to go over the decisions."
It wasn't a hard decision to put in a claim for Murphy, one of the premier hitters in the league. The Cubs were slumping at the plate, as what looked like just a slow start to the second half had ballooned into about a month of offensive woes. A spark was needed.
"Between Aug. 1 and the Murphy deal, we felt like we needed a jolt right there," Hoyer said. "Our mindset changed a little bit between Aug. 1 and the trade ... At that moment, there was a lot of excitement obviously because of the type of player that Murphy is but also because of the way we were struggling."
Meanwhile, in Washington that weekend, Murphy was finding out that he was on waivers -- not that it fazed him.
"I frequent MLB Trade Rumors," Murphy said. "That's how I found out. I was not surprised. My guess would be I've probably been put on waivers every year of my career. Just a normal move each organization does either to engage the market or provide themselves possible freedom."
In this case, the Nationals were freeing themselves from Murphy's contract, which would save them around $4 million to $5 million. That also scared away those 13 other teams. At least that's how Hoyer and Murphy see it.
"The likely reason he got to us is that's a big financial bite for a lot of teams to get five or six weeks out of a player," Hoyer said. "I think that's the reason he cleared."
Murphy added: "I kind of thought I might slide through."
Once the Cubs saw "eligible," the Cubs and the Nationals began negotiating. If a trade wasn't consummated within 48 hours, Murphy would not become a Cub. Nationals GM Mike Rizzo wanted salary relief and a player, whereas the Nationals had given Matt Adams to the St. Louis Cardinals via a claim.
"They simply weren't going to give us Murphy," Hoyer said.
Once a trade became a possibility, more people got involved. Cubs brass had to consult with both ownership and their manager to make sure the fit was right monetarily as well as in the clubhouse. Of course, Joe Maddon signed off on the addition of one of the best lefty bats in the game.
"We found out we had been awarded the claim on Sunday a bit after noon," Hoyer said. "After Theo [Epstein] and Mike Rizzo had spoken a few times, we began to believe that the potential existed for getting a deal done. We spoke with Joe late afternoon on Monday about the possibility of adding Murphy.
"We talked about the roster/clubhouse fit, as we would with any potential new player. Joe was immediately excited about how Murphy's presence could jump-start our offense. That was really the focus of the conversation."
Then came the conversation with ownership, which was twofold. The added salary probably wasn't going to be a big concern, considering the Cubs acquired Cole Hamels for next to nothing in regard to the competitive balance tax. The second part of the conversation involved Murphy's 2015 comments that stirred up some controversy when he said he "disagreed with the homosexual lifestyle." That needed some working through.
"As we mentioned at the time, the Cole Hamels trade was exceptionally CBT-friendly, and therefore, we still had room under the threshold to fit Murphy," Hoyer said. "In addition, the insurance money we are receiving on Yu Darvish helped us afford Murphy's contract. But, yes, Tom [Ricketts] was very supportive of the move from a financial standpoint.
"As far as the conversations regarding Murphy's 2015 comments, we started by researching them thoroughly. Theo then called Billy Bean [MLB's ambassador for inclusion] and spoke with him about the comments in 2015 and about the relationship between Bean and Murphy that developed subsequently. After that conversation, there was an ownership call with Theo to have a discussion about it."
All parties were eventually satisfied, setting the stage for the acquisition of Murphy, though time was running out. At 12:30 p.m. CT Tuesday -- if no deal was struck -- Murphy would remain with the Nationals.
"We had a number of conversations with Washington on Monday, and then it spilled over to Tuesday," Hoyer said. "On Monday, there was a sense this was a possibility, but it wasn't until like 12:28 [Tuesday] we were confident we had a deal."
The teams settled on minor league infielder Andruw Monasterio to complete the trade in the nick of time. The Cubs had changed the entire dynamic of their offense.
"Mike Rizzo brought me into Davey's office and said they had traded me to the Cubs," Murphy said. "It's been a seamless transition."
It has shown, as Murphy is hitting .355 in his first seven games with his new team. That's the least surprising aspect of the whole ordeal, as few in the game can believe he got to the Cubs.
"I don't know who wouldn't want to pick him up," former Mets teammate Zack Wheeler said Tuesday. "He's one of the best hitters in the game. ... They passed up on him. They had their chance. Now the Cubs have him, and they have an even deeper lineup."
Several scouts echoed those thoughts.
"I was very surprised the Cubs got him," one said. "He's an RBI hunter at the plate."
Hoyer was asked to go back to his first thought when he saw the Cubs had won the claim for Murphy.
"My reaction was, 'Oh, that's a surprise,' based on the way the year has gone and no one has made it to our spot [in the claiming order]," he said. "You can't assume you're going to get a deal done in that situation, but we were hopeful."
Hope turned into reality, and a former Cubs killer is now one of their own. No one can quite believe it.
"He crushed these guys. Now he's with them," Wheeler said. "It's crazy."
How did the exact hitter the Cubs needed land in their laps?
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