Without coming out and specifically saying so during his Monday news conference, new Cubs President of Baseball Operations Jed Hoyer hinted that we could be in line for major changes in what we will see when the team takes the field April 1 against the Pirates at Wrigley Field.
Or will they? There were other hints, dropped by Hoyer and Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts in the news conference, that the season could wind up being shortened. And possibly be played in part with no fans in the stands, or only a portion of Wrigley Field’s capacity being filled.
It’s not just the Cubs who are in financial straits due to the pandemic. Several other teams have laid off employees and are claiming losses of $100 million or more. (Whether these are actual “losses” or just on paper with creative accounting is something we’ll likely never know.)
So the Cubs as we have known them essentially since 2015 could see major changes before whatever 2021 season we have.
This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily. Teams often have to retool as players get older, or injured, or just stop performing the way they had in the past. One of the things Theo Epstein could be rightly “accused” of is being a bit too loyal to his core players. That could change under Hoyer. Even though Hoyer was a key part of Epstein’s front office, his beliefs and procedures and who he values on the team are likely to be different, just because he’s not the same person.
Should the Cubs blow everything up and trade away everything of value and rebuild? This would involve trading players like Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and perhaps even Willson Contreras (don’t hate on me, Sara, just speculating). The issue here is that of those three, only Contreras has real trade value at this point. Bryant and Schwarber are coming off the worst years of their careers, and the question remains: How valid are a 60-game season’s worth of numbers, given the circumstances under which the season was played?
If the team really wants to blow everything up, then even trading Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks might be considered, though Hendricks’ contract is fairly team-friendly.
Should the Cubs try to re-tool on the fly? That might involve trading just Bryant, if there can be value received for him given his poor 2020 numbers. Not having (about) $20 million worth of Bryant’s contract on the books could lead to some value free-agent signings even if the return on a Bryant trade isn’t what it might have been a year ago. Funny thing, too, as pointed out by Sahadev Sharma in The Athletic:
It would certainly be ironic if the extra year of control the team took from Bryant by gaming his service time as a rookie was wasted.
Sharma is talking about the possibility that Bryant might be non-tendered instead of traded. I don’t think that’s likely, but the fact that it’s even on the table has to be somewhat shocking. So is the possibility that Schwarber might be non-tendered, and I’d put the odds of that as around 60-40.
The last possibility is to tinker around the edges and try one more go-round with the current core of players. These players did, in fact, win the NL Central in 2020 and at least for a time, were the hottest team in baseball with their 13-3 start. They’re not old. The oldest of the group, Anthony Rizzo and Jason Heyward, are just 31, and most of the rest are still in the late 20’s “sweet spot” that should, presumably, be the best years of their careers. Might it be worth one more shot for the 2015-20 group, and if it’s not working around the trade deadline, then deal players? Their value might be higher in July (presuming there’s a normal length season and that’s the trade deadline) than it is now, and the Cubs might be able to acquire a better group of players for 2022 and beyond by dealing the core then, rather than now.
Six years of contention, five playoff seasons and one World Series is a pretty good run. Ownership and management promised us more than that; they insisted they could build a good organization that could provide contention for many years, such as we see from the Cardinals or Yankees. For various reasons, that hasn’t happened and the team definitely needs to shore up parts of that organization, notably development of pitching. It’s not just that the Cubs haven’t developed pitchers out of their own system (though we hope that Adbert Alzolay and Brailyn Marquez, among others, might change that); it’s that pitchers like Tom Hatch and Pierce Johnson go to other teams after flopping with the Cubs and have big-league success.
There are no easy answers to any of this. But I thought this topic was worth discussion as we head into a long holiday weekend.
What track should the Cubs take this winter?
This poll is closed
Blow it up and go full rebuild
Retool around the edges and try to contend in 2021
Give the current core one more go at it in 2021
Something else (leave in comments)