There’s been no shortage of concern among fans that Jed Hoyer is content to run the Cubs like a small-market team, and recent comments from ESPN’s Jesse Rogers don’t alleviate that fear. Speaking to ESPN 1000’s Kap and J. Hood on Wednesday morning, Rogers shared thoughts on the Cubs’ dearth of moves this winter and what it says about the bigger strategic picture.
That included a comp to an organization that is throwing tons of money at free agents despite not already having what was considered a competitive roster.
“The team to compare the Cubs to, guys, is the Texas Rangers,” Rogers said. “This to me is very interesting. Their farm systems rank very similarly and their success is similar; in fact, the Rangers were worse last year. But the Rangers have gone out and spent big, big money. Probably wrong. I mean, Semien’s not gonna be good for that long, Seager’s not gonna be, and Jacob deGrom may not be healthy for one season.
“But they went for it, or they’re going for it in a tougher division. So which avenue is the right avenue? To push all in, to max out deals on guys when you’re not necessarily ready to win with 68 wins, which the Rangers had, or to do it the Cubs way? I mean, look, I’m not against great players. I want ’em all, like I would love to have Carlos Correa. It’s not our money.”
Everyone knew the Cubs weren’t going to spend last year, but they’ve already come out and said publicly that money was there to pursue top free agents to spur a return to the postseason. While that is most assuredly a targeted message to fans meant to alleviate disdain for ownership, it also raises the question of whether Hoyer is simply averse to spending beyond what his internal models say the market should be.
As understandable and maybe even admirable as that is on paper — or in a different industry — there’s little valor in a lack of discretionary spending in baseball. More specifically, there are no awards for seeking value and missing out on impact players when running a flagship organization in a top-3 national market.
“You can’t get better without stars,” Rogers said. “I had this argument with Jed at the Winter Meetings or at the GM Meetings, one of ’em. I said, ‘Look, you admit you don’t have stars brewing in your minor league system. That means you gotta go out and get ’em.’
“And he kind of agreed, but then he also said, ‘Well, the Rays don’t have a lot of stars and they win.'”
With full understanding that we don’t have complete context for this quote, it’s a pretty damning indictment of how Hoyer is going about his business. Even if it’s more of a quip thrown off with equal parts sarcasm and frustration, I can’t help but think there may have been a little Freudian influence in there. Whatever the case, I can’t tell you how much I hate the idea of the Cubs trying to emulate the Rays’ model.
I’m sure a lot of folks out there will counter that Tampa has remained competitive for years with a nominal payroll committed to a roster full of mainly homegrown talent. But when you get right down to it, they’re only successful in spite of razor-thin margins because they’ve developed a high level of ingenuity born of necessity. The Cubs can and should be able to put far more money into evaluation, development, and especially acquisitions.
For as good as the Rays have been over the years, they typically flame out in the playoffs because they simply don’t have the experience or the star power to compete with the rest of the American League. Winning at a high level requires a boatload of good fortune in addition to talent, and money can buy a lot of both. Hoyer admitted as much back in October, making his inaction on the position player market all the more frustrating.
“We definitely need to continue to add offensively,” he said in October. “We didn’t have enough power this year. When I look at the breakdown of our season, I mentioned this in the press conference, we just didn’t blow anyone out.
“We played so many close games, and that’s taxing on your bullpen and it also brings luck into the equation a lot. When you play a lot of close games, you’re actively bringing randomness into the game.”
Look, it’s all well and good if you want to revamp some outdated practices across different levels of the organization to keep pace with the best teams in the game. The Rays and Guardians stand out as excellent models to emulate, which is why the Cubs nabbed Carter Hawkins from Cleveland to be the GM. But failing to flex that big-market brawn to augment the small-market brains just feels like choosing to fight with one arm tied behind your back.
But hey, maybe Hoyer can still pull a Houdini and escape from the trap he appears to have created for himself.
Update: Rogers provided a little of that additional context we were missing via Twitter exchange.