With the Cubs in the midst of their final homestand before the All-Star break, general manager Carter Hawkins met with the media at Wrigley Field on Wednesday.
Before the Cubs took an 8-5 loss to the Phillies, Hawkins discussed a number of topics ranging from minor league promotions to current roster construction. Of course, with the trade deadline just under five weeks away, that topic has very much been on the front office’s mind.
Though the Cubs have dropped the first two games of this series to the Phillies (after losing the London Series finale Sunday), they’ve still won 11 of 16 games since their series in Anaheim earlier this month.
The rotation has remained their rock; despite back-to-back rough starts from Jameson Taillon and Drew Smyly, the combined rotation ERA (3.96) remains No. 3 in the National League and No. 7 in the majors. The bullpen’s 2.19 ERA entering Wednesday (since June 9) was the best in baseball, and the hitting group’s .750 OPS in that same timeframe was No. 9. Clearly, those parts of the game working at the same time had led to the Cubs’ hot stretch.
It is ultimately the front office’s decision on which direction the team goes at the deadline, though. So what exactly does it need to see over the next few weeks to force it into buy-mode?
“More of the same,” Hawkins said. “I mean, that consistency of putting together all three phases of our game: the offense, the defense and the pitching. Obviously, that leads to wins, wins lead to improving our playoff odds, and as we do that more and more, it puts us in a position to buy. I think if we continue to see that, we’ll be in a really good place.”
While the holes the rotation dug (seven earned runs in 3 2/3 for Smyly on Wednesday, five earned runs in five innings for Taillon on Tuesday) are what led to losses the last two nights, the Cubs can rightfully expect the starting pitching to stabilize. Bullpen success is a bit of a newer development, but Hayden Wesneski and Michael Rucker’s combined 5 1/3 innings of one-run ball Wednesday was another example of the ‘pen firing on all cylinders during a stretch when the Cubs have needed it. And even though their offense isn’t built to carry the team to victories, if they can come close to performing overall like they did Wednesday (five runs on 10 hits and three walks) while picking it up in terms of “timely” hitting (0-for-8 with runners in scoring position), they’ll find themselves battling in games more often than not.
That’s what the Cubs need to see consistently over the next few weeks. Hawkins and president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer haven’t made a definitive decision on the direction the team will go at the deadline. They’ll allow things to play out a little longer before they do.
Right now, it’s up to the players to force the front office’s hand. If things go off the rails, or if the Cubs go on another hot streak, it’ll make the decision easier. But at the end of the day, the front office wants to avoid selling for the third year in a row. Hawkins and Hoyer will wait as long as they can before they make that decision.
“[When] you think of decisions, you think of reversible decisions and irreversible decisions,” Hawkins said. “Making a trade is an irreversible decision, and any high-leverage irreversible decision, you want to wait as long as you possibly can. So yeah, the more data we can get, the more information we can get, the better. But at the same time, sometimes those things hit you in the face, you can’t wait any longer and you make a decision before all of the information is out there.
“In a perfect world, you’d have as much info as you can before you make a decision like that.”
More from Hawkins
- On a Pete Crow-Armstrong Triple-A promotion after he was named to the Futures Game: “I mean, PCA right now is on a really good trajectory, just in terms of what he’s been able to do offensively. His walk rates have gone up [8.2% at Double-A in 2023 versus 4.9% at High-A in 2022], his plate discipline has been really good, his defense has continued to be at the high clip that he already was at. So from that standpoint, we’re just really excited about what he’s doing right now in Double-A. I think those conversations will start probably towards the second half here, but right now, we’re just excited about the progress he’s making.”
- On Jordan Wicks’ promotion to Triple-A: “Some serious consistency out of Jordan. He’s a guy that obviously we really liked in the draft. He had about 20 starts in High-A and about 20 starts now in Double-A, and he’s performed at a really good clip at both of those levels. Continues to throw strikes, mixes pitches really well, has a plus changeup. A guy that really competes on the mound and pitches really smart, and so we felt like he was really ready for the challenge of Triple-A, and we’re excited about his ability to get there and start being a major league option for us here at some point.”
- On if Ben Brown is almost ready for a big league call-up: “That ready question is always really tough. It’s like, what does it mean to be ready? I mean, does he have the stuff to get major league hitters out? Absolutely. Is he on the 40-man roster? Yeah. Is he starting in Triple-A? Yeah. Put all those things together, and yeah, that guy is an option [for] the big leagues. We want to make sure we’re making decisions that are good for Ben’s long-term development and those types of things, but we’re also trying to win games at the major league level. I think we’d be remiss to say that he’s not a guy that comes up in conversations, and will continue to. He needs to continue to show consistency at the Triple-A level. He’s got great stuff, but his ability to command that stuff is going to be what separates him, and he’s working on that every day.”
- On if Cody Bellinger at first base is now more about what’s best for the team: “I think we’re moving into that now. He’s gotten a little bit more work out in center field. He didn’t do as much in London, just because that turf was a little bit different and just didn’t want to push anything. But obviously, the fact that [Mike Tauchman] has played such a good center field makes that an easier decision to have Belli at first. Obviously, Belli is a great defender over there [at first]. I think as we get into the next days and weeks, it will be more about just what’s the best alignment for us.”
- On Seiya Suzuki’s struggles (33 wRC+ in June, 102 wRC+ this season): “We are definitely excited that he’s on our team. He’s definitely produced at a level that’s helped us win games. Do we think there’s more in there? Yeah, of course. We think that he could be an elite bat in the corner outfield. Has he played up to that potential quite yet? No. He’d be the first one to tell us that. But at the same time, you see the flashes of greatness, and it’s just about finding that consistency. We know what’s in there. We know he’s working hard to make that happen. A guy that we plan to have with us for a long, long time.”
- On Jameson Taillon’s spot in the rotation: “Right now, he’s in our rotation. Don’t have any plans to move him out of it. Obviously, things change over the course of the season, but that’s not a conversation we’ve had.”