Even though you know trades are coming, it’s jarring when a teammate or a fan-favorite player is moved mid-season. That was the case with Joc Pederson, who had endeared himself to damn near everyone with an earnest goofiness that included a nearly transparent patch of peach fuzz that wouldn’t have passed for a mustache even in junior high.
He certainly didn’t set the world on fire with his production over just 288 plate appearances for the Cubs, generating 0.2 fWAR with a 95 wRC+ that ranked ninth on the team among players with at least 100 PAs. He wasn’t actually that great in left field either, posting a career-worst -1.5 UZR in just over 518 innings. But he was a great character, one of those glue guys who everyone wants to be around.
So even if his one-year deal signaled that he was trade bait from the time he joined the organization, it still sucks on an emotional level for a lot of folks.
“Such a good teammate and a good friend in four months,” Anthony Rizzo told reporters on Friday. “His vibe and everything he brought to the team every day was just fun and upbeat and energetic. He was a good person to have around. Good morale.”
Making matters worse, the players found out about the trade the same way fans did. Ian Happ woke up to a text from his brother upon landing on the team flight to Arizona, which had to have been a serious WTF moment. David Ross had a little more of a heads-up from Jed Hoyer that a deal could be going down, but that didn’t make things much easier.
“This is the first time I went through that, and Joc…I mean, that stinks, man,” Ross said. “You pour your heart and soul into these guys and them competing, and they’re competing for you. And you rely on those guys and their hard work and their attitude and their professionalism.”
More than just losing a friend or teammate, trades like this say very clearly that the looming threat of a teardown is no longer hypothetical. It’s also a sign to the remaining players that the Cubs aren’t really concerned with being competitive this season. I’m sure a lot of folks reading this will be like, “Duh,” but it’s not as easy for professional competitors to adopt a longer-term perspective.
“When your friends on the team get traded,” Rizzo said, “you know they’re going to a place where they’re wanted more and valued and they’re going to go compete for maybe something more. But it’s tough.”
Rizzo’s future is still undetermined with two weeks until the deadline and just a few months before the expiration of his current deal. He cut off extension talks prior to the start of the season and apparently hasn’t engaged in them lately, even though Hoyer has pledged to sit down with his stars. Rizzo actually cited Jon Lester‘s sterling legacy with two different teams back in March and you have to wonder whether he’s seeing greener grass in other ballparks at this point.
While it’s far from a clear sign, it’s less than pure coincidence that the Cubs got a slugging first baseman from the Braves in return for Pederson. Maybe 10 years from now we’ll be talking about Bryce Ball the same way we are about Rizzo, which I suppose would mean the Cubs would be parting ways with a cornerstone yet again. It might also mean they’ve won another title, in which case several mistakes will have been forgiven.
However it shakes out, Tom Petty remains right about the waiting being the hardest part.