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Column: Moment of truth arriving for Chicago Cubs President Jed Hoyer, who has a big decision to make

One of the dilemmas facing Chicago Cubs President Jed Hoyer as he makes his big trade-deadline decision is whether to break up the nucleus of a team that fans really seem to like.

What makes sense business-wise might not be the right call in terms of satisfying the customers, and all fans are customers, whether it’s buying tickets or merchandise or a direct-to-consumer streaming product from the team-owned TV network that airs their games.

Trading Marcus Stroman and Cody Bellinger should bring back a slew of players who could help the Cubs down the road, perhaps as early as 2024. Keeping them and trying to get over .500 and into the 2023 postseason, knowing they could very well leave after the season, would be risky and potentially could set the timeline for winning back a year.

The fact the Cubs have begun to take advantage of a soft spot in their schedule, winning six of seven from the Washington Nationals, St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago White Sox, adds to the degree of difficulty for Hoyer with the trade deadline in its final days.

“Once again, I guess that’s fun for y’all to write about and fun for us to be able to make their job challenging,” shortstop Dansby Swanson said after Tuesday’s 7-3 win against the White Sox in the City Series opener. “We’ve been playing really well recently.

“I love our at-bats, love the way we’ve been playing defense. The way the pitching staff has been going, it’s fun to be part of a collective group that believes in one another and is willing to lay it out there each and every night.”

Stroman takes the mound Wednesday evening on the South Side, facing Lance Lynn in a matchup of starters who could be pitching elsewhere next week.

Hoyer could make a Solomonic decision by dealing Stroman and keeping Bellinger, thus getting some prospects for the future while signaling a belief the Cubs could still make it into October with one of the hottest hitters in the game.

And if that plan didn’t work and Bellinger left for more money, at least Hoyer could say he tried, assuming the Cubs made a realistic attempt to keep him in November.

The Cubs could contend without Stroman, but it would be harder than doing it without Bellinger. Unless Hoyer received a major-league starter in a package for Stroman, the Cubs would go down the stretch with only two reliable starters in Justin Steele and Kyle Hendricks. Jameson Taillon, while improving, still has a ways to go to prove he’s back, and Drew Smyly is in danger of losing his rotation spot.

Manager David Ross said Smyly, who struggled while being used after opener Michael Fulmer on Saturday, is not assured of a start when his spot comes up Friday in St. Louis.

“We’ll figure out that starter the day before,” Ross said Tuesday.

Ross needs to win now, not for job security but to keep Cubs fans from constantly harping on his managing. Losing Bellinger or Stroman, or both, would make his job more difficult.

Ross was a special assistant under former President Theo Epstein from 2017-19 and was in some trade-deadline meetings, so he knows the pressure front-office executives are under when making buy-or-sell decisions.

But Ross said what Hoyer faces is an apples-and-oranges comparison to what Epstein faced.

“It was a different front office, and that team had different players and were in different spots in the standings and expectations and all those things,” Ross said. “It’s hard to compare.”

Asked how difficult it would be for Hoyer this week, Ross zigzagged around the question.

“We were all part of a front-office team that was giving input, but there was a different man making the decisions,” he said, referring to Epstein.

Epstein hired Ross after the 2019 season to replace Joe Maddon, whose relationship with the front office had reached a breaking point three years after the championship season. According to “The Book of Joe,” cowritten by Maddon and Tom Verducci, Epstein questioned Maddon’s “methods” after playoff exits in 2017 and ’18 and negative feedback from players in exit interviews.

“I know you may disagree with this,” Epstein wrote Maddon about him not being available to players. “I can only tell you whether they are right or wrong about it, the players feel (and volunteer) that they aren’t getting enough out of you. If they feel that way, that means it’s an issue and we should look for solutions.”

Maddon responded in his book by calling the claim “BS,” adding: “If you’re going to listen to first- orsecond-year players who might be upset by the fact they didn’t think they played enough, then it becomes even more disingenuous.”

Nevertheless, Maddon was out after 2019. When the Cubs got off to an 8-2 start in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Epstein said of Ross: “He has stepped in and helped address some things that have been lingering for years. And for him to do that in the first two weeks is really impressive.”

But after a 13-3 start, the Cubs went 21-23 the rest of the way and were swept in two home games by the Miami Marlins. Not impressive at all.

Hoyer executed his big summer sell-off in 2021, and the Cubs were out of contention early in 2022. Adding Swanson, Bellinger and Taillon last winter was evidence the Cubs hoped to contend again, but they’ve spent the last two months trying to get back to .500.

Now the pressure is squarely on Hoyer to do the right thing for the Cubs — whatever that is. The more the Cubs win over the next six days, the tougher it will be for Hoyer to make the call.

Swanson and Bellinger have helped keep the Cubs on the edge of contention in the division and wild-card races. Both believe in this team and hope it can stay together.

“You never take moments like this for granted,” Swanson said. “We have so many good people here, so many people that are professionals in every aspect. Definitely enjoying myself.”

How much faith does Hoyer have in the 2023 Cubs?

We’ll soon find out.


Source: Berkshire mont

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