The fun of spring training has nothing to do with top prospects, new managers, or what awesome ballpark food you'll find at parks in Florida and Arizona. The true fun of spring training, at least for a baseball nerd like me, is watching a team's B-team lineup, randomly spotting a veteran, and saying, "what are they doing there?"
With a team like the Chicago Cubs who have made a name for themselves by actually succeeding with a full rebuild, we've had these moments in the past where non-roster invitees and veterans on incentive-laden contracts will show up on screen or in our lineup cards. Then, when we try to remember where they've been at the past few years, it hits us: they were on that team! They signed a huge deal with this team!
Honestly, part of what's been so interesting about this spring is looking at the rosters and realizing some active players were years, maybe even months, away from being on those contending Cubs teams. There's so much change in baseball that it's easy to forget about these players, but let's instead do our best to remember.
Today, let's look at some players who, believe it or not, were once on the Chicago Cubs. Some were top prospects, some were aging veterans, and some...well, you'll see what I mean.
15 Scott Hairston, outfielder
For a long time, the Hariston family was everywhere in The Show like they were Major League Baseball's version of the Wyatts. Did I just sneak a WWE reference into a Major League Baseball article after doing it with Pete Rose and the San Diego Chicken last week? The son of Jerry Sr. and brother of Jerry Jr., Scott broke into the big leagues in 2004 with the Diamondbacks and bounced around for a while before joining the Cubs on a two year, five million dollar deal prior to the 2013 season.
With the Cubbies, the 33-year-old Hariston was hoping to provide a veteran presence in the outfield and build on the career-high 20 home runs he slugged as a member of the Mets in 2012. Instead, Hariston lasted only 52 games with the South Siders, hitting a measly .172/.232/.434 before being dealt to the Nationals in July. Things ended quickly for Hariston in Chicago, who was gone well before the team even saw the key members of their winning seasons - Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell, et all - make the big leagues.
14 Nate Schierholtz, outfielder
Like Hariston, Schieroltz was another veteran outfielder who, prior to the 2013 season, signed a contract with the Cubs to essentially be a placeholder for the Schwarbers and Albert Amora Jrs. of the word. Unlike Hariston, however, Schieroltz succeeded in the role, notching a career-best 32 doubles, 21 home runs, and 68 RBIs with the Cubs in 2013 as a starting right fielder. The days of subpar Jason Heyward were a few years away, folks.
Because of the Cubs' bright young outfield and Schieroltz being released on waivers in August 2014, the former Olympic Bronze Medalist has seemingly been forgotten about by Cubs fans. Yet, had Schieroltz struggled the way Hariston had in 2013, the Cubs may have rushed one of their top prospects up sooner. Who would have thought that, from a certain point of view, Schieroltz helped contribute to the Cubs' winning ways?
13 Scott Feldman, pitcher
By now, the Scott Feldman-Cubs tale has been beaten into the ground, but let's retell it anyway. After struggling in 2012 with the Texas Rangers, Feldman became a Chicago Cub on a one-year, $6 million dollar deal and seemed to regain his prime form with the Cubs, pitching to a 7-6 record with a 3.46 ERA in 15 starts for the South Siders. In May, Feldman even hit his first career home run against the Reds.
But, with the Cubs rebuilding and the Orioles trying to make the playoffs for the second consecutive year, they traded Feldman and catcher Steve Clevenger for Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop. It was a judgement call move, but for those Cubs fans who forgot how Arrieta ended up in Chicago, Scott Feldman is the guy you want to thank.
12 Xavier Nady, outfielder
Finally, someone not on the team's 2013 roster. After a year and a half with the Yankees that saw him become a fan favorite in 2008 - X MARKS THE SPOT, Yankees radio announcer John Sterling would happily proclaim after a Nady home run - the former top prospect signed a one-year deal with the North Siders to be a corner outfielder, first baseman, and solid locker room presence in a team that...well, we'll get to that when we hit number 11.
And speaking of hitting, Nady really didn't do that over his 119 games, recording a decent statline of .256/.306/.353 - his lowest batting average in a full season (Nady was limited to 25 games in 2004 and seven in 2009) - and hitting six home runs. Clearly, the earlier-than-expected return from Tommy John surgery limited the former second-rounder's power and Nady, who would bounce around for a couple years after, was forgotten as the Cubs began the first of several losing seasons.
11 Milton Bradley, outfielder
The less said about Milton Bradley, the better. A high school teammate of Chase Utley's in California, Bradley battled injuries and attitude issues for years before Bradley led the American League in on-base plus slugging with a 1.036 mark, not to mention hitting a career high .321 and leading the league in on-base percentage (.443) with the Texas Rangers in 2008.
Despite his previous issues, Bradley was able to parlay that All-Star season into a three year, $30 million dollar with the Chicago Cubs in hopes that Bradley would help the Cubs break their then-101 year drought without a World Series victory. Instead, Bradley hit .257 with 12 home runs and 40 RBIs, but earned national attention for more behavior issues and on-field gaffes.
Really, Bradley may be the one person on this list that fans should be thankful they don't remember.
10 Kosuke Fukudome, outfielder
Well, I've talked about Fukudome and how things went wrong with the Cubs beforehand, so the basic elements from what I said in December remain true: Fukudome came to America prior to the 2008 season as a top prospect who was looking to build off the recent success of Hideki Matsui and Daisuke Matsuzaka and made an immediate impact, hitting a game-tying home run off Brewers closer Éric Gagné on Opening Day.
For his first two months, Fukudome was red hot and entered June 1 hitting .310/.412/.442 with a 33-35 K-BB ratio, but ended the season at a .257/.359/.379 clip. Cub fans probably forget Fukudome not only because he debuted in 2008 and was traded during the 2011 season, but because he couldn't keep up that international aura and flair that Hideo Nomo, Matsui, and Dice-K all had. Even when Matzuaka began to fall apart in 2009, he still had enough of an international brand that the Red Sox could rely on. With Fukudome, nobody cared after the 2008 season.
9 Carlos Mármol, pitcher
There's not much to say about Carlos Mármol that would be consistent because when he was on the mound, the guy was far from consistent. One month, Mármol would be electrifying and dominant, drawing comparisons to All-Star closers Francisco Rodriguez and Jokaim Soria; but the next month, Mármol's control would be out of control - in 2009, the 26-year-old walked 65 batters in 74 innings - and he'd lose the faith of managers Lou Piniella, Mike Quade, and Dale Sveum.
Mármol lasted from the Dusty Baker days to well into the rebuild, but it's hard to blame Cubs fans who don't remember that the 2008 All-Star was a Cub as recently as 2013. Really, Mármol was one of the final pieces of a Cubs team that was long gone, the final member of a bullpen that included Bob Howry and Ángel Guzmán. Where did yesterday go?
8 Edwin Jackson, pitcher
Edwin Jackson is entering his 15th season in the major leagues and is still only 33. I can't be the only one who felt that he was around 30 in 2010, right? Jackson being on this list may surprise some people seeing as he was on the Cubs as recently as 2015 - and the team was still paying him through last year - but does anyone really remember that? It feels like the former All-Star was pitching for the Cubs as recently as five years ago, not two.
In 82 games with the Cubbies, 52 of which were starts, Jackson was 16-34 with a dismal 5.37 ERA before being cut during the 2015 season. Amazingly, Jackson's three years with the Cubs tie for the most he spent with any big-league team, as he also spent three years with the Dodgers (2003-05) and Rays (2006-08). Is Jackson so forgettable because he can't stay anywhere?
7 Bryan LaHair, first baseman/outfielder
Finally, we've hit our first 'who????' on this list from even the most diehard Cubs fans, but that wasn't the case when Bryan LaHair first hit the big leagues with the South Siders in 2011. Though LaHair had made his big league debut in 2008 with the then-terrible and injury-plagued Mariners, the former 39th-rounder impressed early enough in a September stint (.288/.377/.508 with two home runs in 69 plate appearances) to be named the Cubs' starting first baseman while Anthony Rizzo developed in the minors.
For a while, LaHair was one of the biggest feel-good stories of the 2012 season, making his first All-Star team by hitting .286/.364/.519 through July 8. Unfortunately for the veteran minor leaguer, Rizzo was called up to the big club at the end of June and quickly made an impact, sending a 29-year-old to the bench and, when the season ended, to Japan. LaHair was Roy Hobbs for a bit, but ended his career as Jack Elliot. Somewhat. LaHair did try making returns to the big leagues in 2014 and 2015 with the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox respectively, but never went further than the minors.
6 Randy Wells, pitcher
Right here is one of those players who, if you were a fan of another team, you had to have had at least a moderate interest in the Cubs to know who Randy Wells was. When this guy was on his game in 2009 and 2010, there were few non-ace pitchers in the majors who were much better as Wells, a former Rule 5 pick by the Blue Jays after the 2007 season, went 12-10 with a 3.05 ERA in a 2009 Cubs rotation beset by injuries and inconsistency.
Somewhat like Fukudome, the luster with Wells ran out as the Cubs entered their rebuilding period and the former 38th-round pick began to struggle. Going 8-8 with a 5.05 ERA from 2011-12, Wells became a free agent after the 2012 season and, after a brief go of things with the Rangers in 2013, called it quits. He was called, he served, and for some time with the Cubs, he counted.
5 Andrew Cashner, pitcher
Now, I remember Andrew Cashner as a prospect in the Chicago Cubs system, but most people won't remember him other than as the key piece in the Anthony Rizzo deal. Making his big league debut in 2010, Cashner served as a reliever in 2010 before being named the fifth starter for the 2011 season; the former first-rounder only made one start before dealing with a rotator cuff injury.
For a while, Cashner was viewed as the next ace for the Cubs in the way that Kerry Wood and Mark Prior once were, but he instead was dealt in 2012 to the Padres as part of that blockbuster for Rizzo. Given that Cashner is on his third team since then and Rizzo has become arguably the best first baseman in the National League, it's safe to say the Cubs won that deal. My gut feeling tells me the 30-year-old Cashner will be a Cub again one day and, when they're told he was once a prospect with the North Siders, Cub fans will be shocked.
4 Carlos Pena, first baseman
Before transitioning over to MLB Network, Carlos Pena was another one of those veteran pieces the Cubs signed to either be a building block for the near-future or a placeholder for younger prospects. Coming off a season with the Rays where he hit .197, Pena really could have turned out to be either, but hitting .225 with 28 home runs and 80 RBIs as the Cubs' starting first baseman before the team traded for Anthony Rizzo and let the 2007 Comeback Player of the Year didn't help the team in any way.
Though, I guess his subpar 2011 campaign helped the Cubs because it sped up the need for a long-term answer at first base - one that they knew the 31-year-old Pena probably wasn't going to be. Still, the only reason I remembered Pena being a Cub was because as a middle school Yankees fan, I was glad to see him out of the American League East. You know, until he came back to the Rays a year later and hit a grand slam against the Bronx Bombers on Opening Day.
3 Marlon Byrd, outfielder
It does not feel like Marlon Byrd has only been around since 2002. I had taken Byrd as someone who'd been around since Alex Rodriguez was in Seattle, but the 2010 All-Star actually made his debut in 2002. That's the type of surprise you get when a player looks the same age for 15 years without it ever looking like he's aging.
Anyways, Byrd joined the Cubs on a three-year, $15 million contract after spending 2007-09 with the Rangers and, as skeptical as some people may have been, things went well. At least, until Byrd was drilled in the face by a pitch in 2011 against the Boston Red Sox; less than a year later, Byrd would join the Sox after being unceremoniously waived, which is probably why no one remembers him as a Cub.
2 Kerry Wood, pitcher
No true Cubs fan will forget Kerry Wood's first stint with the North Siders, where he made two All-Star apperances from 1998-2008 and struck out 20 Houston Astros hitters in his rookie year. His second stint, which went from 2011-12 after time in Cleveland and New York (side note: Kerry Wood as a Yankee was flat out dangerous), was a bit less memorable as the former prodigy abruptly retired after a slow start to the 2012 season.
Still, Wood returning to Chicago was a nice moment for both parties, especially after Wood's once-promising career had been derailed by poor management and front office decision making by the same organization. When Wood recorded his final out - by way of strikeout, of course - the Wrigley Field crowd gave him a standing ovation and his son, Justin, ran out onto the field to emotionally greet his father. Who says you can't go home?
1 D.J. LeMahieu, second baseman
I may as well be completely honest and admit that, prior to researching this article, I entirely forgot LeMahieu was in the Cubs' system. When Cubs fans had lamented the loss of LeMahieu after the future All-Star won a Gold Glove following the 2014 season, I had assumed that the team had drafted him out of high school but lost him to LSU.
Instead, LeMahieu was drafted out of high school by a team who lost him to LSU, but that team was the Detroit Tigers. With the Cubs, LeMahieu was a second-round pick in 2009 and made his debut two seasons later, hitting .250 with two doubles and four RBI in 60 plate appearances. For some reason, the Cubs traded LeMahieu and outfielder Tyler Colvin to the Rockies after the season not for a top prospect or a proven big-leaguer, but infielder Ian Stewart. That's the very same Ian Stewart who had hit .156 with the Rockies in 2011 and had one season with a WAR over 1.0 in over 100 games. Why? Why not?
So if you ever ask yourself why the Cubs were struggling so badly from 2010-14 with what were almost scab teams, your answer lies in the D.J. LeMahieu trade.
Which player do you remember randomly putting on a Cubs uniform recently? Make sure to let us know in the comment section below!