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If the Cubs aren't 'rebuilding,' then what's the plan?

Ryan Avatar
May 29, 2022

Jed Hoyer won’t put a label on what exactly is going on with the Cubs right now.

The team’s president of baseball operations hasn’t defined the roster overhaul that started last July as a “rebuild,” a word that seems taboo to say around the organization despite the Cubs starting to follow the same pattern from a decade ago when Theo Epstein was the one in charge: don’t spend crazy money in free agency, flip veterans with value at the trade deadline and restock the farm system with young, talented players who have the potential to come up and turn the club back into a contender.

It worked back then (the Cubs won the 2016 World Series, after all), and Hoyer is confident that whatever it is he’s doing now will work, too.

“We had a really good six-year run, but we didn’t sustain that success for quite as long as we hoped,” Hoyer said in the visitor’s dugout at Guaranteed Rate Field on Saturday. “We are in a period right now where we are actively thinking about our future again. We’ve built something really special once. I have no doubt we’re going to build it again.”

Still, with the way he worded that quote, no wonder one reporter followed up by saying, “So this is a rebuild.”

“I didn’t say that,” Hoyer responded. “If you want to label it that, that’s your job. My job is to tell you what our plan is, and I believe I’ve done that using almost the exact same phrasing that we used last time.”

Well, regardless of what the right way to label it is, there’s not a lot of clarity on what exactly the path to contention looks like. Hoyer won’t provide a timeline for this current process. He won’t speculate on what he sees the Cubs doing when the trade deadline comes around again, because to him, it’s still too early in the season for trade talks to really get serious.

Hoyer has started to take his share of criticism for what could be described as a lack of transparency, though to his credit, he at least acknowledges that.

“I do think the messaging is pretty similar (to last time),” Hoyer said. “But obviously, if people don’t feel like we’re not being as transparent, then I think I have to own that. I have to think about our messaging.”

Hoyer compared the timing of this media-scrum questioning with the same time of year back in 2021, saying, “we were actively talking about buying.” And he’s not wrong. At this time last year, when the season was 45 games old, the Cubs were 23-22 with most of the World Series core intact, and a month-long run that had them tied atop the National League Central on June 24 nearly turned the Cubs into buyers at the deadline.

But he later made deals that sent Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Báez out of town with two months left in the regular season. Those are the stars who helped lead the last great Cubs team out of rebuilding-mode and into a perennial playoff contender. Maybe it was time for the organization to hit the reset button — but maybe it came a little bit later than it should’ve.

“We kept that group until the very end, really, in part, because we felt a real sense of belief in that group,” Hoyer said. “We wanted to do it with that group again. I don’t regret that at all, but I do think that we didn’t make any of those moves several years earlier in order to kind of continue that cycle.”

Last time this kind of thing happened, there was at least some semblance of an idea of what was going on with the Cubs.

No, fans didn’t love watching their team tank — Hoyer said he doesn’t remember getting many bouquets during the 2012 and ’13 seasons, when the team lost a combined 197 games — but at that point, the Cubs were still “the lovable losers.” There had been no real sustained stretch of success for the franchise in decades, and with the thought of a contender waiting at the end of the tunnel, waiting a few years for the team to break through was less of an ask at the time.

Now, Cubs fans have seen that this organization can put together a competitive team year in and year out. They made it through one rebuild and saw the success on the other side, so the fanbase certainly has the right to not want a team with the resources Cubs have to put them through that again. But as the one in charge of the roster this time around, the direction of the team what Hoyer decides he wants it to be.

“I think the thing that I’ve tried to emphasize over and over in various ways is — and Theo said this a lot going back to ’12, ’13, and ’14 — there are going to be moments in time that you have to make a decision,” he said. “Sometimes, the current and the future are in conflict, whether it’s trading prospects to get a ‘now’ player, whether it’s doing a really long deal on a free agent. When those things are in conflict, we are going to look toward the future.”

Call the process whatever you want, but this current team is nowhere near being that contender at the end of the tunnel. The players who might one day reach the heights of Bryant, Rizzo and Báez are either very early in their big league careers or are still working their way through the minors.

Sure, the Cubs might’ve just beat the White Sox — a team that’s slumping but still has a roster that, when healthy, is right in the thick of the playoff conversation — 5-1 on the South Side, but that came off an embarrassing 20-5 loss to the Reds, who entered Sunday with the worst record in Major League Baseball.

Hoyer won’t say this team is rebuilding, and maybe he shouldn’t. When the offseason rolls around, not many high-profile free agents will like the sound of joining a team that’s “rebuilding.” It’s also true that the offseason signings of Marcus Stroman and Seiya Suzuki do follow Hoyer’s idea of bringing in pieces to try to help the Cubs be competitive now while not throwing a wrench in his plans for the team’s future.

But until he lays out the exact timeline for when this team will really be competing for championships again (spoiler: he won’t), the questions and the labels won’t stop being floated around.

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