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Cubs showing Theo Epstein’s second trade might work out

Dave Sappelt is congratulated by David DeJesus after hitting two-run home run fifth inning. | matt York~AP

Dave Sappelt is congratulated by David DeJesus after hitting a two-run home run in the fifth inning. | matt York~AP

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Updated: January 16, 2013 7:22PM

PHOENIX — After being reminded for three days in Denver how bad Theo Epstein’s first trade for the Cubs has looked, the team tried to make a case for his second trade Friday night.

The deal last December that sent relief ace Sean Marshall to the Cincinnati Reds for Travis Wood and Dave Sappelt might be the most criticized move Epstein’s front office has made.

Wood didn’t make it look any better with five rocky innings in the 8-3 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks that sent the Cubs to their 98th loss, tied for the third-most in franchise history.

But even forgetting that the Cubs had little use for a $3 million setup man in a contract year during a season they had no playoff plans, the deal could start paying off next year.

That is, if next year means anything.

Manager Dale Sveum already has Sappelt penciled onto his Opening Day roster as at least a fourth outfielder, and Wood is a clear
No. 3 in the rotation, albeit a distant third behind Jeff Samardzija and Matt Garza.

Marshall is having another big year for the playoff-bound Reds, with a career-best 11.2-strikeouts per nine innings. But the Cubs weren’t going to win with or without him this year, and he wasn’t going to get a three-year, $16.5 million extension to stay.

‘‘I think if all the pieces fall together, it’s definitely going to be a good trade,’’ said Sappelt, who was in the lineup Friday against former 20-game winner Ian Kennedy because Sveum liked the matchup.

Sappelt responded with his second home run of the road trip, briefly tying the game in the fifth. He added a sliding highlight-reel catch in right field in the sixth.

‘‘I mean, it’s already a good trade,’’ Sappelt said. ‘‘You’ve got a middle-of-the-rotation starter in Wood, who’s doing real good this year. And there’s no telling what my limit is. I’m just still figuring things out now at the big-league level.’’

Sappelt, 25, might be a little biased, but there’s no debate that the trade is already a better deal than Epstein’s first, which sent Tyler Colvin and DJ LeMahieu to the Rockies for third baseman Ian Stewart and minor-league pitcher Casey Weathers.

‘‘That was one piece of the puzzle that we thought we were going to be locked in at third base and hopefully get 25 home runs out of [Stewart] and the defense that he can play,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘And that only lasted for about six weeks.’’

Stewart had a sore wrist, underwent surgery and disappeared. Colvin and LeMahieu, both of whom are in the Rockies’ plans next year, combined to go 11-for-21 with four extra-base hits, including a home run, and six RBI in the Rockies’ three-game sweep of the Cubs this week.

The jury is still out on Wood and Sappelt, but Sveum likes what the Cubs got in that trade.

Wood, also 25, had a 2.45 ERA in his previous seven starts before Friday. Sappelt was coming off a 5-for-9 series at Colorado that included his first big-league homer.

‘‘Hopefully you get two productive players, and obviously one’s a starting pitcher that’s capable of pitching 200-plus innings,’’ Sveum said.

‘‘And obviously Sappelt, he’s always hit, in the minor leagues and so far in this short sample for us. He has the ability to play center field, he can run a little bit, he drives the ball. [He’s] not just a guy that’s going to slap the ball around.

‘‘There’s no doubt in my mind at this point he should be a piece of the puzzle next year.’’

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