Often, in this space Monday, I’ll post a “Three up, three down” article about how various Cubs have done over the previous week.
But since there were just three games in the week ending Sunday, there weren’t many performances to choose from.
Then I thought perhaps I’d do something on various permutations of acquisitions and/or trades the Cubs could make at the trade deadline, which is now just 15 days away.
Then I saw this tweet:
The Cubs have devoted about $225M to the 2023 roster and are ~$5M away from the penalty threshold, and a week away alienating a large portion of their fan base assuming they trade Stroman and Bellinger. If I'm part of Jed Hoyer's front office, I'm thinking about job insecurity.— Brendan Miller (@brendan_cubs) July 16, 2023
Welp, I thought, there’s my article.
The Cubs did commit quite a bit of money to this year’s team, and by signing Cody Bellinger and Jameson Taillon, among others, sent a message that they appeared at least ready to compete in a weak N.L. Central.
That hasn’t worked out, up to now. Bellinger has played well, even while missing a month with an injury. Taillon has been mostly awful, though his last start was brilliant, perhaps hinting at a better future.
The Cubs stand eight games out of first place in the N.L. Central, which is still relatively weak — the first-place Brewers are nine games worse than the N.L. East-leading Braves, for example.
The team still does have a chance to get back in the division race, but with seven games remaining in the homestand they’d probably have to win at least six in order to send a “we’re still in it” message. Is that possible? Sure it is, with the woeful Nationals and downtrodden Cardinals heading to town starting tonight.
But what I really wanted to address is the “alienating a large portion of their fanbase” comment made in the tweet.
The Cubs sold off in 2021. It was the right thing to do at the time, they had to move on from an underperforming World Series core that hadn’t made the playoffs in three years.
The Cubs sold off in 2022. It was the right thing to do, again, because the team reached the deadline at nearly 20 games under .500. Somewhat strangely, the Cubs began playing better after the All-Star break in 2022, and thus there was even more hope when Jed Hoyer & Co. made those offseason signings.
I still believe the 2023 Cubs have underperformed their talent level. That doesn’t change the fact that their record isn’t looking playoff-worthy right now.
But is this what management wants? To sell off again? How many years is this going to happen? Trading Marcus Stroman, Cody Bellinger and possibly others is going to leave holes that can’t immediately be fixed by players from the system, no, not even top prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong. PCA is only 21 and his ETA in MLB is likely 2025.
The phrase “act like a big-market team” has been thrown around, by me and others. Am I suggesting the Cubs go on a spending spree like the Mets and Padres did last offseason? No, because look at the standings — the Cubs’ record right now is essentially the same as those two teams, who are even bigger disappointments than the Cubs.
But if the Cubs do sell off, whether that “fanbase alienation” is justified or not, you are going to see more season-ticket holders cancel, you’re going to see much smaller crowds at Wrigley the rest of the year, and the team is going to have to lower ticket prices again, because how can an increase be justified when there hasn’t been a commitment made to winning? There’s only so many out-of-town tourists that can come to Wrigley no matter how the team is doing.
I’m not sure I have an answer here. As noted above, massive spending isn’t the answer. The “intelligent spending” that Hoyer talked about a couple of years ago hasn’t produced a winner either. The Cubs system could produce some good MLB players, sure, but that’s probably at least two years away.
And so that makes this the summer of our discontent. The team isn’t winning enough to contend — not at this moment, anyway — and so even players who could be part of a new winning core, like Bellinger, who just turned 28 this week, seem likely to be headed elsewhere. This article indicates the Cubs could still go either way, though:
The Cubs find themselves in a kind of gray area when it comes to picking a buy or sell lane for the Deadline. At 43-49, Chicago’s record is not what the club hoped for early in the season’s second half. That said, the Cubs aren’t entirely out of the postseason picture (eight games back in the NL Wild Card race and the division). The next couple of weeks before the Deadline will be critical for how Chicago reacts. The team has some veteran trade chips, with Marcus Stroman and Cody Bellinger topping the list. If the Cubs do want to add, the biggest needs would be offensive power — the corner infield spots being the best avenue — and an impact arm in the bullpen.
There’s already a rumor out about Stroman possibly heading back to Toronto:
According to MLB sources, the Blue Jays are one of the teams that have expressed strong interest in what may be a Stroman sweepstakes by the last week of July.
Both the Cubs and Jays have done their due diligence on the strength of each other’s farm systems. Stroman was drafted and promoted through the Blue Jays’ system before getting traded to the Mets during the 2019 season.
(Reminder: “due diligence” does not necessarily imply a trade is “imminent,” or will even happen at all.)
It’s important to remember these things, though, that Brendan Miller noted in replies to his own tweet:
This FO has implemented many interesting strategies (e.g., pitching development, higher volume of prospects, etc.), but it might not meet the standards of ownership...and it's turning many fans away. It's one thing to be patient, but I think patience requires confidence.— Brendan Miller (@brendan_cubs) July 16, 2023
It feels "not right" to express disappointment or concern about the direction going forward when, at the same time, there's optimism about many prospects, and the scouting dept is still in its early stages. But I can see ownership thinking that's not enough by this time next yr.— Brendan Miller (@brendan_cubs) July 16, 2023
At this point, then, the only thing I can really say is: As always, we await developments.
What should the Cubs do at the trade deadline?
This poll is closed
Pull the plug and sell off as much as possible
Add to the team and go for it this year
Stand pat and keep players like Marcus Stroman and Cody Bellinger
Something else (leave in comments)