Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer made it clear when meeting with the media Friday at Wrigley Field: the front office doesn’t want to sell at the trade deadline.
However, that comes down to what the Cubs do in this last stretch of games before the Aug. 1 deadline. If the team struggles, it would be tough to argue that buying is the best course of action.
“That’s ultimately the balance,” Hoyer said. “Obviously, there’s nothing we want more than to add, to continue to win this season. But if we are in a position where that doesn’t look like the right bet to make, then we’ll pivot.”
The Cubs don’t have a daunting schedule. After this weekend’s series against the Red Sox, they play the Nationals (3 games) and the Cardinals (4) at home followed by a series on the South Side against the White Sox (2) and a road trip to St. Louis (4). Besides Boston, none of those teams were even sniffing .500 at the end of the first half (the Cardinals’ 38-52 record heading into Friday was the best of the bunch).
Even still, every game before the trade is important. Is every game a must-win? No, but if the Cubs can take a couple from the Red Sox, that buys them some margin for error against the rest of the teams on the slate (though those are certainly games they should be able to win for the most part).
But that’s not how they kicked off the first series after the All-Star break. The Cubs didn’t come out looking like a team that can make a run in the 8-3 loss. Cody Bellinger finished the game 2-for-4 with two solo shots, but the rest of the team combined to produce just a single run. Kyle Hendricks had his worst start of the season, surrendering five runs on eight hits and four home runs over 4 2/3 innings.
The Cubs have to be cognizant of the fact that time is limited and every loss means there’s more ground to make up. But pressing isn’t the answer, either. So, finding that balance is the tall task facing the team moving forward.
“That’s all our focus can be on,” Hendricks said. “It’s just one pitch at a time, one play at a time. That’s what’s going to get us there in the end. So yeah, there’s the sense of urgency, but you can’t catastrophize and just look too far in the future. You’ve just got to, as hard as it is, simplify everything and go pitch to pitch— whether you’re on the mound, staying aggressive, getting ahead of guys, or at the plate, just taking it pitch to pitch and passing it to the next guy.
“We’re right there. We’re doing a great job. I put us behind the eight-ball today, and again, it was just getting beat. Just one of those games we’ve got to move on.”
Hoyer wouldn’t divulge the exact criteria the team needs to meet to force the front office to make additions, but he did say the club needs to make up ground on both first place in the National League Central and on a .500 record.
Milwaukee helped in that first aspect. With a 1-0 Brewers win over the Reds, the Cubs remain seven games out of first place. Still, they’re six games under .500 (42-48) with only 16 games left before the deadline. It’s unclear which of those factors matters more to the front office — if they’re under still under .500 two weeks from now but within a couple of games of first place, would they buy? Or does it not make sense to add pieces to a team that had lost more games than it won?
There’s also the fact that the Cubs remain without the services of their All-Star shortstop, who might otherwise help this team win games.
Dansby Swanson was forced to sit out the All-Star Game after suffering a left heel contusion running the bases on July 5 and being placed on the 10-day injured list. He did do some hitting and throwing during the break, according to the Cubs, but it’s unclear whether he’ll be activated when he’s eligible on Saturday.
“We’ll continue to progress him and test him out [Friday and [Saturday] and see how he feels,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “I think it’s, hopefully, soon. I don’t know if I’m ready to say Sunday and he’s in there, but we’re going to listen [to the medical staff]. He wants to be in there. I know he’s going to push the envelope and be back as soon as he possibly can.”
The Cubs are probably better than their record. FanGraphs’ BaseRuns metric even had them as a team that should’ve been nine games over .500 heading into Friday. But at the end of the day, that means nothing if you aren’t playing that way on the field.
Do the Cubs believe they have a team that can be more competitive over 162 games? Of course, but when there’s a trade deadline on the first day of August, if you aren’t playing like that better team, tough decisions have to be made.
“They’re not going to fly a banner for component stats,” Hoyer said. “Ultimately, you are what your record is.”