The so-called “intelligent spending” plan Chicago Cubs president Jed Hoyer embarked upon last offseason has produced mixed results as the team nears the halfway point of the 2023 season.
Dansby Swanson, their biggest signing of the $300 million-plus spending spree, has paid dividends already. His 2.9 WAR ranked third among shortstops on Wednesday, and Swanson may be the best defensive shortstop the Cubs have seen since Don Kessinger over five decades ago.
Cody Bellinger provided a lift before his knee injury on May 15 in Houston, while Drew Smyly looks like a sound investment after being re-signed to a two-year deal in spite of a rough start Wednesday in an 8-5 loss, the team’s third straight, to the Philadelphia Phillies before 32,279 at Wrigley Field.
But none of the other free agent signings have stood out so far, and the net result of all the moves has been a sub-.500 team (3740) that’s only in contention because of the weak competition in the National League Central.
Now Cubs fans are demanding the team become buyers in the trade deadline market, a plea chairman Tom Ricketts apparently has heard.
“Obviously we’re buyers right now,” Ricketts told Cubs fans in a pub last week in London. “Things can come off the rails, but I don’t think they will.”
Of course he doesn’t.
Whoever envisions a scenario like that, except perhaps Cubs fans with good memories?
It was only two years ago the Cubs came completely off the rails, going on an 11-game losing streak from June 25 to July 6 that saw them fall from a first-place tie to nine games back, and prompting the biggest sell-off in franchise history.
That seems like a long time ago now, and the only key players remaining from that first half of ’21 are Ian Happ, Nico Hoerner and Kyle Hendricks.
The Cubs began Wednesday 3 1/2 games behind the Cincinnati Reds, a team in rebuild mode that’s been winning while calling up top prospects like Elly De La Cruz. Whether the Cubs can continue their recent stretch of solid baseball the rest of the way remains to be seen. But after Ricketts’ T-shirt-ready slogan — “Obviously We’re Buyers Right Now” — optimism is rampant in Wrigleyville.
Carter Hawkins, the Cubs general manager who gets to talk to the media whenever Hoyer goes under the cone of silence, said Wednesday despite their place in the standings, nobody in the front office can “look at our record and say, ‘Hey, we’re below .500 and that’s OK.’”
“I don’t know that .500 is the magic win percentage necessarily,” he added. “But I do think we should win more than we lose, and we’ll do everything we possibly can to make that happen.”
It’s encouraging to know the Cubs’ GM thinks they should win more than they lose. It’s the least the Rickettses could do for the prices they charge for tickets.
Now let’s see what moves Hawkins and Hoyer make to ensure that scenario comes to fruition.
Hawkins also was asked whether they’d wait as long as possible to decide on making a deal, to see where they stand by the end of July.
“The nerd in me, and I guess there’s a lot of nerd in me … but when you think of decisions, you think of reversible decisions and irreversible decisions,” he said. “And making a trade is an irreversible decision. And any high-leverage, irreversible decision, you want to wait as long as you possibly can.
“So yeah, the more data we can get, the more information we can get, the better. But at the same time, sometimes those things hit you in the face and you can’t wait any longer, and you make a decision before all of the information is out there.”
I’m not fluent in nerdspeak, but I think Hawkins meant they’re in no rush to deal until the Aug. 1 deadline.
The last time the Cubs moved early on a significant deadline deal was July 13, 2017, when they sent their top hitting and pitching prospects, Eloy Jiménez and Dylan Cease, to the White Sox in a deal that brought back a No. 3 starter in José Quintana.
“We obviously wouldn’t have traded Eloy just to help our chances in 2017,” former president Theo Epstein said at the time. “This is all about all the way through 2020.”
We all know how that turned out.
The Cubs never won another postseason game after 2017.
Quintana had little success on the North Side. Cease turned into one of the top pitchers in the American League last year, and Jiménez has been an above-average hitter when he’s remained healthy. And the Cubs have not won a postseason game since ’17.
The Cubs might need another starter again, and some decent ones should be available, including the White Sox’s Lucas Giolito. Smyly allowed seven runs on nine hits in 3 2/3 innings Wednesday to put the Cubs in an early hole, while Jameson Taillon, the Cubs’ biggest miss of the offseason so far with a 6.90 ERA, has been the weak link of an otherwise solid rotation.
Could Taillon go to the bullpen while the Cubs find a replacement for the second half?
“Right now he’s in our rotation,” Hawkins said. “We don’t have any plans to move him out of it. Obviously things change over the course of a season, but that’s not a conversation we’ve had.”
Bullpen help is a priority, naturally. Brandon Hughes, who was slated to be their top lefty reliever, underwent left knee surgery Wednesday, a less invasive procedure than originally planned but one that still could sideline him the rest of the season. Hawkins said the Cubs would be looking for good bullpen arms who can get left-handed hitters out, no matter what side they throw from.
As for Bellinger, considered one of the Cubs’ bigger trade chips, Hawkins pointed out he was “under contract for us this year and next year,” referring to the mutual $25 million option for ’24. Most assumed Bellinger would opt for free agency if he rebounded in ’23 and remained healthy. But he’s hitting .221 with no home runs and 4 RBI over 23 games since May 1, so the jury is still out on him.
Ditto the Cubs. They’re hot, then ice cold, then hot again.
But obviously they’re buyers right now, and that’s a good thing.
Source: Berkshire mont