If you’re among the group that still believes the Cubs won’t spend money this winter or that they don’t intend to compete for several years yet, you either haven’t listened to Jed Hoyer or you don’t believe him. Or maybe you just love to parse Hoyer’s words in an effort to discern his true meaning. Whatever camp you fall into, it’s getting awfully hard to find a way to look at the very consistent messaging as being anything but earnest.
Hoyer has said from the beginning that the Cubs have money to spend and that they’ll do it in pursuit of a competitive team. While no one will deny what a significant undertaking that will be for a team that wasn’t winning even before trading away its foundational players, the NL Central isn’t exactly Murderer’s Row.
What’s more, recent postseason history has shown that you don’t need to be a dominant force all season to succeed.
“We just saw sort of the value of getting in the tournament,” Hoyer said on 670 The Score’s Bernstein & Rahimi Show Wednesday. “I think Atlanta was widely thought to be the lowest odds, probably the worst odds of any team in the National League that made the playoffs and they just won the World Series. So I think the goal has to be to get in the tournament. I think that’s the goal every single year. I think we have to try to build a team that can be competitive and can do that.”
The first thing that jumps out at me is that Hoyer sure does think a lot, though that’s really just a verbal tic he’s always used. More important is what he’s thinking about, which appears to be that the Cubs are aiming for the postseason.
“Now, the honest question is are we at a place like the Dodgers might be right now where I think they’re fine-tuning a World Series roster?” Hoyer continued. “You know, we’re probably not there right now. I think that’s the goal, to be there in time and get back to that place we were in ’15, ’16, ’17.
“But as far as how we construct this team and as we look at free agency, certainly the goal is to construct a team that has a chance to make the playoffs. And that’s what we’re going to do.”
That mention of Atlanta’s underdog run to the world title is important not just because of the repetitive “just get in” trope. The Braves were under .500 and only a half-game ahead of the Cubs when the two teams consummated the trade for Joc Pederson during the All-Star break. The Cubs were also tied with the Cardinals at 44-46, then had to watch firsthand as St. Louis went streaking through the second half.
And while Cubs fans were MF’ing their team, Pederson and the Braves proved that they were those MF’ers. We can apply all kinds of logic to either the Cubs’ reasons for trading so many key players away and we can likewise point out how difficult it will be to replace said players with a more balanced roster on short notice. But just like envy, the best way to compete again in a hurry is green.
“I’ve said this quite a bit – we have resources to spend this winter,” Hoyer reiterated. “We certainly will spend this winter, but we want to do it in the most intelligent fashion possible. Free agency presents itself with a lot of opportunity to bring in talent. It also presents tremendous risk when you’re talking about really long deals when you’re talking about players on the wrong side of the aging curve.
“That’s why free agency does present risk. Our goal is certainly to be competitive next year to try to do everything we can to get into the tournament, but we do want to spend intelligently.”
Ope, there’s that invitation to parse again. What exactly does it mean to “spend intelligently,” and is Hoyer just leaving the back door open to sneak out when the Cubs don’t sign any big-time players? He does seem to be coming in a little more firmly on the side of not pursuing Carlos Correa or Corey Seager, though you could just as easily see this as simply acknowledging the very obvious inherent risk in such a pursuit.
Spending wisely isn’t just about the amount of money the Cubs hand out in new deals, it’s about the timing of those deals. As the pitching market gains steam ahead of the December 1 CBA deadline, it might be wise to grab one of their top targets in order to create a little more certainty for what could be a very manic period just before the season eventually gets underway.
Who knows, it might even cost less to lock a veteran starter in now than to wait until February or March. Even if that cost ends up being higher for a bigger target, it might end up having a downstream impact that makes it possible to sign other players for a little less than anticipated. The whole point is that smart money isn’t always less money.
It could even mean more if the per-dollar value is greater. Steven Souza Jr. may have gotten just $1 million for 2020, but FanGraphs says he was worth even less than that by putting up just 0.1 fWAR on the season. Ian Happ, on the other hand, has been worth $64.1 million over the course of his career and has never generated less than $10.6 million of value in any season. Kris Bryant generated $28.5 million in 2021 and has tallied a career total of $254.2 million, far more than he’s been paid.
Value is about far more than just what a player gets paid or even what he produces on the field, and the Cubs as an organization need something to put butts in the seats. Something other than a sportsbook, that is. As unlikely as it appears that Seager or Correa will get $300 million of Tom Ricketts’ money, a big deal like that wouldn’t necessarily go against the idea of spending intelligently.