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Good morning, CHGO familia. Happy Monday to you all.
It was a hot, long week, and even though the Cubs snapped their 10-game losing streak and took two of three from the Braves, it’s tough to say the week was anything less than a disappointment. A four-game sweep at home to the Padres and a third double-digit losing streak in less than a calendar year will do that.
If you look on Twitter, there is a lot of anger in the fanbase. That’s understandable. Fans were promised a competitive team this year, and by the looks of things, that’s not happening. There were question that needed answers, and the morning of the series finale against San Diego, president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer came out to Wrigley Field to answer them.
That 30-plus minute conversation didn’t bring with it a whole lot of groundbreaking information, but there were still some insights that I have thoughts about. So without further ado, here is the newest edition of my Monday morning Cubs thoughts.
Hoyer has never given a precise timeline for the Cubs’ next competitive window, no matter how many times he gets asked about it, which is probably the smart thing to do.
Baseball is weird, and things happen over a 162-game season. By not giving a specific year to target for when “The Next Great Cubs Team” will arrive, he’s defending against the chance that he’s wrong and the criticism that would come with that. It’s honestly not the worst idea for him to play his cards close to his chest. But when he spoke to the media assembled in the home dugout on Thursday (if you haven’t seen the full video, Marquee’s got you covered), it sounded even less like anyone really knows when that next competitive window will open.
“I don’t know that,” Hoyer said. “I’m aware that sometimes things speed up and sometimes things slow down, and I’m not smart enough to know which of those is going to happen. But I do know, and I have the ultimate confidence, I know we’re going to be successful, just like I knew that same thing last time.”
Yes, the ebbs and flows of a season will affect that competitive window. Hoyer could certainly be wrong no matter what he says, whether it opens earlier than expected (remember last time, when the 2015 NLCS run felt like it came out of nowhere?) or later. If Hoyer doesn’t have a sense of when that will be, then neither do I. The play of less-heralded prospects like Christopher Morel could speed that up. Top prospects like Caleb Kilian coming up and succeeding will speed that up even more. Spending money to compete like a big-market team would do even more to better thread this needle.
Again, I don’t have a sense for when this team is going to be competitive again. I can speculate (2024 maybe?), but I’m not Hoyer or another member of the front office. I don’t have all the knowledge of what they are planning on doing this season, next offseason, in 2023, etc. That’s for Hoyer and Co. to figure out. Come back to me when that happens.
The thing is, when Hoyer talked about being competitive while keeping an eye on the future, it wasn’t supposed to look like this.
Maybe that’s on us for accepting that, if things went right (and a lot of things would’ve had to go right), then this team could be a fringe playoff contender. Marcus Stroman needed to pitch with the same level of success that he’s had in the past, Seiya Suzuki needed to look more like a 27-year-old pro than a rookie making the jump from Nippon Professional Baseball to Major League Baseball, Kyle Hendricks needed to have a bounce back season. As much as those feel like a lot to ask for, that’s only a fraction of things that needed to go right for this team to actually compete. Needless to say, that hasn’t happened.
It’s tough to expect everything to go right, because that never really happens in the grand scheme of things. And if we’re being honest, more things have gone wrong for the Cubs this season than anything.
Just take a look at the injured list. As of Sunday, 13 players were on the IL, whether that’s 10-day stints for position players, 15-day stints for pitchers or the six Cubs who are still on the 60-day list. Of those injured players, three include Stroman, Wade Miley and Drew Smyly. That’s three of the five projected starters. That’s 60% of the rotation. Instead of having another three veteran pitchers who could help stabilize the rotation, the Cubs are relying on Hendricks, two rookies with just six big league starts between them (Caleb Kilian and Matt Swarmer) and two second-year arms still trying to prove they can be successful major league starters (Justin Steele and Keegan Thompson).
Hoyer, to his credit, didn’t allow injuries to take the blame for the team’s struggles. But those have certainly taken a toll, and as the Cubs sit 16 games below .500 and just two games ahead of the Reds in the division, things could hardly seem worse. Does “The Next Great Cubs Team” feels further away now than when the season started, or might if even feel further away 66 games into the season?
“I think I’ll have a better answer for that later in the season,” Hoyer said. “I don’t feel like we’ve had a chance to really get everyone on the field and playing. I think I’ll have a better feel for that at the end of the season than I do right now. I understand why you’re asking that question today, but it’s probably a question I’d probably answer later in the season. … I don’t deny that from a record standpoint, even before this stretch, we weren’t where we want to be. But you’re asking me to make some pretty global statements based on that, and I think maybe later in the season that’s the right time, but not right now.”
As far as these last couple of weeks are concerned, I’ll make my own “global statement”: it doesn’t feel like the next competitive window is any closer based solely on the team’s play this year. Young players have shown flashes, but not all of them are guaranteed to produce to the point that they are contributors to that next competitive team. Some veterans have had solid seasons, but are any of them guaranteed to make it past this season, let alone be on the roster during the next window?
The resources the Cubs have could certainly speed up the process, but if we’re just looking at what the players on the roster have shown, I can’t say we’re any closer to seeing that “Next Great Cubs Team” two-and-a-half months into the 2022 season.
Last year’s 11-game losing streak was the turning point that pushed the Cubs into full-on sell mode leading up to the trade deadline. As far as this year is concerned, the 10-game losing streak pretty much solidifies that same status for this season.
“We were not going to compete for the postseason, and with that, we tried to take that bad situation and find something positive,” Hoyer said. “So yeah, I think that is the case. But definitely, 100%, that’s not where my mind is this morning.”
Maybe it won’t reach the level as last year, when the Cubs traded nine players in July and seven in the last two days before the deadline alone, but there are definitely some trade candidates who have probably been even more pushed out the door thanks to the losing streak.
Willson Contreras is having his best season at the plate. Among all qualified major leaguers, Contreras ranks 10th in OPS (.927), 11th in wRC+ (159) and 14th in fWAR (2.6). He’s in his last season of team control and could net the Cubs a nice package in a deal. As we saw at the deadline last season, Hoyer isn’t afraid to put sentimentality aside and continue to build for the future, and with losing streak sinking any hopes that the Cubs could make a playoff push, it feels like he’s as good as gone, right?
“That’s not something I’m going to answer,” Hoyer said.
David Robertson is having a resurgent season at 37 years old and is on a relatively cheap, one-year contract. Teams need consistent, lockdown relief pitching once the postseason rolls around, and with his 1.82 ERA, his .149 opponents average and his 1.05 WHIP, Robertson has a case to get moved to a contender at the deadline.
“That’s above my pay grade,” Robertson said I don’t worry about that. I’m here to play baseball, here to pitch and try to get outs. If they ever make that decision, that’s their decision. I’m with these guys in the clubhouse, and we’re going to try to continue to play hard and win games.”
Could Chris Martin and Mychal Givens, two of the team’s other veteran relief arms, find themselves on the move? If Miley and Smyly can stay healthy long enough, will they be shopped around? Would a turnaround for Hendricks give teams reason to inquire about a veteran starter with championship experience? Are Patrick Wisdom and Rafael Ortega options for teams looking for extra bats? Even though he still has another year of team control, could the Cubs take advantage of Ian Happ’s career-best season and look for a trade partner?
These are all questions that will be answered over the next six weeks, though I think internally, the Cubs already have answers for some of them.
If and when that “Next Great Cubs Team” arrives, it feels like we have a good idea of who will be managing it.
In that same conversation, Hoyer was straight up asked where he stood with Ross at that point. Hoyer, as expected, gave nothing but a vote of confidence in Ross as the team’s manager: “I think he’s done a great job. He’s the same person every day. I think every conversation we have is about how to make guys better. I don’t see any issues with him whatsoever.”
Of course he should have the utmost confidence in Ross. He’s the one who signed Ross to an extension before this year that runs through 2024, with a club option for 2025. If this next great team is going materialize as soon as the Cubs want it to, then Ross should be the manager as far as the years on his contract are concerned. Again, this isn’t supposed to be some long, drawn-out rebuild. At least that’s not what the Cubs higher-ups are putting out there, what with the idea of being competitive while keeping an eye on the future or the promise to use their resources to compete in 2022 and beyond. So if that’s the case (it isn’t for ’22, at least), then winning should be coming in the near future. And as of now, Ross should be at the helm.
I’ve seen Ross take a lot of heat on social media due to the losing streak, and I get the frustration. But when I see “David Ross needs to go” or something along those lines in my Twitter mentions, I just laugh because it’s such an overreaction. What have we learned about Ross as a manager so far, really? That he can lead a team with good players to the playoffs in a weird, pandemic-shortened season? That his team struggles when the team president sells off most of his best players with two months left in a season? That his team again struggles when that same president doesn’t put a fully competitive roster around him, one that has the depth to withstand the injury bug that continues to take its toll?
No, I don’t know that Ross is a World Series manager. I also don’t know that he isn’t. He’s just been dealt some tough cards throughout his short managerial career, and I don’t think he’s had much of a chance at all to prove his worth as a manager. All we really have to judge him for right now are in-game decisions, and I think he’s done a decent job in that. But to judge him for the full picture, I really don’t think we have enough information yet. Give it some time, give him a roster with players who can be contributors to a winner, and then however the team fares will be more indicative of who he is as a manager.
As I wrote about last night, the Cubs were going to lose one spot on the pitching staff today as the rule limiting teams to 13 total pitchers takes effect.
I didn’t want to speculate too much then, but the Cubs announced this morning that the move was to option Adrian Sampson back to the minors. He had options left, and knowing that he likely will be down for a few days after pitching on Sunday, this doesn’t come as a shock.
But I think it’s only right to acknowledge what Sampson managed to do Sunday afternoon. Hendricks couldn’t make it out of the fifth inning and was tagged for six earned runs. The Cubs, in the middle of a stretch of 17 games in 17 days, needed someone to cover innings, and Ross went to Sampson out of the bullpen — and he might as well have sent the rest of the relief corps home right there. Sampson was lights out, giving up just one hit while striking out five over 4 2/3 scoreless innings of work. If that’s not impressive enough, listen to this: per the team’s postgame notes, with his 4 2/3 innings allowing only one opposing batter to reach base, Sampson became the first Cubs reliever since Dave Roberts on Aug. 23, 1977 against the Giants to throw at least 4 2/3 shutout innings while allowing one or fewer baserunners.
Hendricks said it was “huge” for Sampson to come in and shut things down. Ross said it was “as good as I’ve seen him.” Could Sampson have made it through the roster crunch? Sure. But was he someone who was the likeliest to fall victim to it? Also yes.
I don’t have a clear picture of how Sampson could fit into the Cubs’ future, but I think this was a good place to point out just how impressive Sampson was against the Braves.
This is more on the “Cubs adjacent” side of things, but I think it was too cool to not write about.
On Saturday, the Brewers designated Lorenzo Cain for assignment. He was a two-time All-Star, a World Series champion (’15 with the Royals), the 2014 ALCS MVP and a Gold Glove winner. He’s had one hell of a career, but after missing most of the 2020-21 seasons and just not performing at all this year, Milwaukee decided to part ways with him.
The cool part about it, though, comes from the timing of the decision. Per MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy, Saturday was also the day that Cain reached 10 years of service time. Ten years is not only just a milestone that not many players achieve in the big leagues, but it’s also the mark at which players get a pension plan. It’s a huge accomplishment for any player; anyone who’s been in a clubhouse and can see the gifts those players get can tell you how much it means to them. McCalvy reported that the agreement came from a meeting between Cain, Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns and manager Craig Counsell, and it was a mutual decision. But for Stearns and Co. to wait and make the move until Cain reached 10 years is as classy as a move as they come.
As for how this pertains to the Cubs, we’ve seen Hoyer put sentiment aside and deal players who played main roles on the World Series team. I’ve seen fans call him and the rest of the front office things like heartless or any similar words because of those moves, but if they were ever in a situation like this, you would hope that the Cubs could find a way to help a player reach that big moment while not jeopardizing the team’s success. If they need an example, they only have to look a little bit north to see how it’s done.
In case you missed them, here are some Cubs articles from the past week:
- Where the Cubs stand as the pitching staff size trims to 13
- Willson and William Contreras share hard-earned moment at Wrigley Field
- Cubs’ rebuild offers opportunities, but losing is no less painful
- Keegan Thompson leans on his four-seam fastball, leads Cubs to streak-busting victory
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