Change was long overdue for the Cubs, but the way things went down felt like an episode of Dr. Pimple Popper in which the patient has allowed a cyst to fester untreated for years. The result is painful and ugly, yet people watch anyway out of morbid fascination. Except in this case, ownership may finally face a challenge when it comes to fans choosing not to attend or tune in when they aren’t otherwise barred by a pandemic or poor network carriage.
The Cubs hadn’t been playing good baseball for roughly two months as it was, now they’re missing three of their top position players and fan favorites people would buy tickets specifically to see. Add in Jon Lester — whose trade to the Cardinals was an extra gut punch — and Kyle Schwarber to the mix means the Cubs have lost five World Series heroes in the last several months.
For as much as everyone knew something like this could happen, there was still hope that one of these players would be re-signed. That was not only a very easy financial decision what with all the money the team has coming off the books, it would have made sense from a business standpoint. Like leaving a fieldstone chimney in place when rebuilding a decrepit farmhouse, keeping at least one of the stars they traded would have maintained a sense of comfort and familiarity.
And for those of you who’ve been saying “Willson Contreras” in response, I’m not sure how tightly you want to hold onto that thought with the offseason approaching.
Even though Jed Hoyer said this isn’t a rebuild, executing a major teardown pretty much says otherwise. That said, it’s possible to be incredibly upset or just plain numb about the way things unfolded in such an unceremonious fashion over the last few days. And the team telling you about how this was a necessary evil probably won’t help.
“At least to me, it was a very clear and obvious decision,” Hoyer said. “We weren’t able to reach extensions. So, we could either hold these players for two months and have them compete for a fourth-place team.
“Or, we could do everything we could in our power to reset our farm system, to reset our organization, and I think we accelerated that incredibly over the last 10 days or so.”
As hard as that might be for some people to hear, it at least sounds like something approaching sincerity. When Theo Epstein stepped down, he admitted that part of his rationale was the inevitable slew of very difficult decisions that would have to be made by someone who had more time left to guide the organization. Hoyer was always going to be the hatchet man and that’s exactly what he’s become over the last few days.
How that all plays out is obviously yet to be seen, but the failure to reach an extension agreement with any of those position players wasn’t entirely Hoyer’s responsibility. He’s operating within a budget that has been pared back in recent years due to a variety of reasons we don’t need to repeat here, so ownership has had a hand in the team’s direction even if Tom Ricketts isn’t playing GM (which he loves to remind everyone).
That’s why his public reaction in the wake of the trades rang so hollow. It honestly would have been better for him to have said nothing at all.
“I want to personally thank Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez [sic] and Kris Bryant,” read the chairman’s statement. “Together they played critical roles for one of the most successful runs in Chicago Cubs history. They each secured a place in the hearts of Cubs fans everywhere. While their days taking the field together as Cubs have come to an end, they gave us memories we will hold forever.
“I also wish to acknowledge Jed and his team for making the tough decisions necessary to build the next great Cubs team.”
Hoyer has said he talked with Rizzo, Bryant, and Báez about the door being open in free agency and I know a lot of fans have been salivating about the possibility of getting them back in the future. Ricketts might even see value in it because it would mitigate the losses the organization is suffering in fading season ticket sales and overall attendance. As unlikely as that is, the Cubs absolutely must go big in free agency over the next few seasons with either familiar faces or new stars.
That isn’t just a matter of saying Ricketts owes it to fans to spend a ton of money, even though he certainly does. Rather, it’s about the reality that the Cubs have just over $38 million committed to a total of three players in 2022 and only slightly more than that in 2023. Only Jason Heyward, Kyle Hendricks, and David Bote have deals in place beyond this season, though arbitration will increase those totals in time.
Hoyer has made it very clear that this isn’t supposed to look like the process he and Epstein oversaw 10 years ago, but we should find out this offseason whether he was being honest about that. With full understanding that CBA negotiations could alter the strategy a bit this winter and even beyond, choosing to maintain a depressed budget would be an insult to fans who’ve paid premium ticket prices for the last two decades and could continue to do so for an inferior product.
If there’s any good news in the meantime, it’s that you don’t really have to live and die with the outcomes of individual games for at least two months. There are no longer any trade rumors, which is a huge relief that should last until at least October. Once we find out what’s going on with the CBA, you can really start worrying about what the Cubs are planning to do. Or not do.