I’ll admit that I felt a degree of optimism when Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts wrote to fans back in October, stating “We have the resources necessary to compete in 2022 and beyond, and we will use them.”
Like the bulk of the fanbase, I was still coming to terms with the trades that saw Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez flipped for a bunch of prospects last season and while I felt a lot more optimistic about the future of the franchise than I had in a long time, the present looked decidedly bleak.
Still, Ricketts’ note went on to say: “We will be active in free agency and continue to make thoughtful decisions to bolster our team this offseason.” He continued, “With our attention now solely on the 2022 season, please know this: we respect your high expectations, we share your desire to win and we commit to fielding a competitive team reflective of your unrivalled support.”
It seemed, on paper at least, as if the organisation understood exactly where the collective head of the fanbase was at and as if they were going to ensure this rebuild would be briefer and less arduous than that which eventually led to the 2016 World Series.
It initially seemed that way in practice too, thanks to the pre-lockout acquisitions of Marcus Stroman, Wade Miley and Yan Gomes, not to mention the fact that the team was linked to superstar shortstop Carlos Correa throughout the labour dispute. When that signing failed to materialise, the Seiya Suzuki bombshell rekindled our hope and yet in reality it proved to be the last meaningful piece of business of the offseason, as Jed Hoyer rounded out the roster with veteran seat-fillers like Andrelton Simmons, Jonathan Villar and Mychal Givens on short-term deals.
On reflection, these players are far more indicative of where the Cubs are as an organisation than the likes of Stroman or Suzuki though and thanks to the injuries sustained by them, Miley and a bunch of others, they’ve seen a lot more playing time of late too.
The combination of such injuries and a lack of quality depth all but robbed the Cubs of their exceptionally slim playoff hopes by the end of May, while questionable organisational decisions – such as that to DFA Clint Frazier while Jason Heyward remains an everyday player – have robbed the fanbase of their last few ounces of goodwill.
This has, in the past week or so, prompted some Wrigley regulars to call for the head of David Ross, who, it’s assumed, is singularly responsible for trotting out Heyward and his .198/.271/.281 slashline day-in, day-out. The decision to do so is a curious one, although it’s probably fair to assume it’s not Ross’ alone. President of Baseball Operations Jed Hoyer issued a full vote of confidence in both Ross and his coaching staff this week, suggesting that some of the decisions the manager is currently taking the rap for are actually beyond his control.
Interestingly, Hoyer, who very much echoed Ricketts’ desire to compete in 2022 – albeit without guaranteeing too many long-term contracts while also building for the future – admitted that while he knows what he’s trying to achieve, he has no idea how long it will take this week. “I have a sense of how to build the next great [Cubs] team and where we want to go,” he told reporters. “I didn’t give you any sense of timing. In fact, I don’t have a feel for that.”
Just say ‘two to three years’, Jed! It’s okay. We all know that for a team on track to win just 71.1 games according to PECOTA another fire sale at the deadline is pretty much inevitable and that yet more Cubs lifers – namely Willson Contreras and Ian Happ – are as good as gone.
If there is a silver lining, it’s that both players are having solid seasons. Contreras is hitting .283/.395/.532 with a .927 OPS that’s tenth-best in baseball at the time of writing, while also proving his worth as both a mentor and leader. Happ, meanwhile, is having one of the best seasons of his career, slashing .284/.384/.459 with a .842 OPS which is second-best on the Cubs. Both should attract worthwhile returns, while some of the other veterans currently clogging up the lineup may also get hot enough to be flipped between now and 2 August.
Then the Cubs can fully commit to the inevitable rebuild by creating playing time for younger guys and players the front office wants to take a closer look at. After all, the likes of Justin Steele and Keegan Thompson have shown flashes this year, while 23-year-old Christopher Morel has grasped his big league opportunity with both hands, hitting .263/.333/.472 with a .805 OPS, five home runs and 15 RBI in 138 plate appearances. At just 25, Nico Hoerner is also proving his worth at the major league level too, hitting a solid .269/.301 .383 while showing off Derek Jeter-like athleticism at shortstop from time to time, and there’s a tonne of good stuff going on in the minors.
As Patrick Mooney of The Athletic pointed out recently, what the Cubs tried to achieve this season is “extremely difficult, if not impossible, and the 162-game schedule always exposes your strengths and weaknesses.” With the plan now in tatters, it’s the time for the organisation to start being honest with the fanbase, as rebuilding requires a lot of good faith, something that’s justifiably in short supply in Wrigleyville right now.
Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images
Sean is one of the Bat Flips & Nerds’ Chicago Cubs correspondents for the 2022 season. You can follow him on Twitter @SW_Guest