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There probably wasn’t a specific moment before the trade deadline when Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said, “We’re going to be buyers!”
There were some moments that helped, of course. Hoyer noted the comeback win over the White Sox and the game that featured Mike Tauchman’s walk-off home-run robbery — both part of the eight-game winning streak that got the club back over .500 for the first time since early May — as games over the last week that helped seal the Cubs’ status as buyers.
“That was sort of like, ‘OK, this is a lot of fun,'” Hoyer said when talking to the media after the deadline passed and before the Cubs’ 20-9 win over the Reds on Tuesday. “These guys are celebrating like it’s a playoff game and just doing so many great things together as a group. It sort of felt like when we won six in a row against the Cardinals in that stretch, that was probably the turning point where you realize this group believes in each other, and it’s definitely the right thing to do to keep them together and let them play the last two months.”
The Cubs acquired Jeimer Candelario in a trade with the Nationals on Monday and brought in José Cuas from the Royals and minor leaguer Josh Roberson from the Rays to add some pitching depth, confirming their status as buyers ahead of the deadline.
Hoyer essentially challenged the players after the All-Star break to string together wins before it got too late to make up significant ground in the standings, and they responded with a stretch that helped them avoid a third consecutive sell-off.
“There was a period where it looked like we were going to be sellers,” Hoyer said. “I think back to, we were seven under [.500] and we were playing the Nationals and we were down 3-0 and looked we were going to drop to eight under, and we ended up scoring 17 that night and sort of didn’t look back for a while. That was not very long ago.”
Still, it wasn’t just one small stretch of games that brought the Cubs all the way to buyer status.
Sure, a couple of weeks back, it looked like the Cubs were on the verge of selling again. They had to go on a 10-1 run to gain enough ground in the division to show the front office that buying was the right call.
But the team’s play dating back to its last West Coast trip is where the front office’s confidence in this group started. Their 28-17 record since June 9 is tied for the third-best mark in that stretch. Did the post-All-Star hot streak cement in Hoyer’s mind that this group deserved to stick together? Yes, but the way the Cubs began to turn their season around in June is what got that ball rolling.
“In a lot of ways, they made it really easy, the way the team played,” Hoyer said. “I think when you look at where we are in this season, it’s been an odd path, for sure. But I think you look at the way we’ve played since, really, early June, and we’ve played great baseball. It’s a cohesive group. I feel like when you look at the underlying numbers, the team is even better than the record. The fans really respond to this group.
“For us, it was, let’s do what you seek out at the beginning of every winter, which is let’s keep the group together for six or seven months. We were able to make the decision to do that.”
The moves weren’t all big splashes. Candelario obviously bolsters the lineup, and considering he was one of the best bats available, he probably fits in that “splash” category. But really, the biggest move the front office made was not selling off any of the the team’s trade chips. Cody Bellinger is staying. Marcus Stroman is staying. Everybody that they believe can help this team win is staying.
Hoyer said the decision to buy wasn’t made for sure until Sunday night. Though with the team’s recent play, it had become obvious to other teams which direction the Cubs would go.
“Other teams were calling, and they were like, ‘You’re not selling,'” Hoyer said with a laugh. “I think people stopped taking us seriously as a seller, like, ‘Come on, you guys are good. You guys are going to buy.'”
Might it have been a little stressful waiting things out until a couple days before the deadline? Probably, but considering the way the last two deadlines have gone, Hoyer is more than happy to have a team he believes in enough to give it a chance to go on a run.
“I mean, it was a pretty easy decision to keep this group together,” he said. “Let’s hope we can keep playing the way we have for the last six or eight weeks and make it a really fun last two months.”
More from Jed Hoyer
- On if the National League landscape played into the decision to buy: “We’re 53-53 [at the time of the deadline]. There’s a lot of years where that wouldn’t have been good enough to make that decision. If you were in a division that had a team running away and the Wild Card was way away from you, we might’ve made a different decision. So, there’s no question that where our division sits and where the Wild Card sits this year, that was a big part of it, for sure.”
- On holding onto Cody Bellinger: “He was popular in my early conversations. I could say he’s been everything we expected, but he’s been even better than we expected. He’s played like he did in ’18, ’19 and ’20 for the Dodgers. He’s been fantastic. You’ve seen how he interacts with our players, how he is in the clubhouse, how he is on the team. He’s a huge part of why we have so much confidence in this team. He’s just fit in perfectly. That was a really easy decision to keep him here. It’s been a lot of fun to watch him.”
- On Marcus Stroman’s rough patch: “A big part of why we’re here is the way he pitched for the first 2 1/2 months or so. He was one of the best pitchers in baseball. He’s had some struggles now, but certainly, guys have ups and downs all the time. He really carried us for a period of time, and so the hope is that he gets back to that, certainly. We are ultimately a run-prevention team. Our offense has been really good recently, but he’s a huge part of that and he’s going to be a big part of what we’re doing going forward.”
- On his confidence in the bullpen: “I think our bullpen has thrown much better. I feel like we had that period sort of going back to the middle of May where it felt like guys were struggling, guys weren’t set in their roles. The coaching staff did a great job of getting guys in the right roles, and since then, we’ve been a really good bullpen with a number of guys throwing really well. The hope is that we can continue to bring guys up. [Daniel] Palencia has done a really nice job since he came up. Obviously, [Javier] Assad has been fantastic this last stretch. The hope is that we certainly can continue to bring some arms through the minors that we’ve developed that can add.”
- On the deals for José Cuas and Josh Roberson: “Cuas is a guy that we had targeted for a bit. We like Nelson [Velázquez] a lot, but we had a little bit of a logjam of right-handed hitters that weren’t on the major league team, and so we sort of traded some depth there for a piece that we’ve kind of targeted for a while — and actually almost had in a couple other deals. And then Roberson, the deal with Tampa was a little bit complicated, but trading a couple arms and some international money for Roberson and some relief was important to us.”
- On designating Trey Mancini for assignment: “It was mostly a lack of at-bats. I think we’ll probably play Candy most at first and third. I think Nick [Madrigal] has done a great job at third, really impressive defensively, and I think we’ll probably play Patrick [Wisdom] some at first against lefties. It just felt like the right time. He struggled with us, and he probably wasn’t going to get many plate appearances going forward. It happens. He’s a great teammate. He worked really hard. Sometimes, guys come in and play above expectations, and in this case, that didn’t happen. I wish him the best, but we just felt like it was the right time.”
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