The Cubs have slumped their way to second place in the NL Central, and I won’t rehash my hostilities of the day. Instead, I’ll just point you to the Bullets from this morning and this frustrated post from earlier this afternoon. Suffice to say, I am ready to see some realistic front office attention to the deficiencies in this team’s performance.
To that end, even before last night’s lackluster drubbing at the hands of the Pirates, the Cubs’ front office recognized the seriousness of their situation.
“It’s been a frustrating 40 to 50 games,” Cubs GM Jed Hoyer told the media, including The Athletic. “In baseball, you’re always trying to evaluate what is sort of the random ups and downs of a long season versus what is a legitimate concern of what needs to be addressed. Certainly, providing some depth offensively is something we’ll look at carefully. Looking at left-handed relief is something we’ll do. We haven’t played well enough to rule a lot of things out. We have to keep an open mind because of how the last couple months have gone.”
The Cubs’ needs are not a mystery to anyone at this point, as Hoyer indicated. Though I’d probably say that the need for a truly impactful bat is a little more dire than anyone associated with the club is willing to concede publicly.
Still, I linger on that line, “We haven’t played well enough to rule a lot of things out.”
The thing about a line like that is that, by its very nature, it could mean nearly opposite things. It could mean the Cubs have individual spots that have performed so poorly (correct) that the Cubs haven’t ruled out making significant moves for upgrades. Heck, Hoyer himself recently conceded that the Cubs will explore external options for offensive improvement.
But the line could also mean that, because the Cubs have performed so poorly for so long, the Cubs can’t even currently rule out simply holding onto their assets – or worse, selling! It would take an even more spectacular collapse from here for the Cubs to consider selling (and they don’t even have a perfect cache of short-term pieces to move anyway), but there was a time a couple years ago when Theo Epstein admitted if things had gone sufficiently sour after the 2017 All-Star break, the Cubs would have considered selling. They were, at the time, 5.5 games back of the Brewers (and then got blistering hot after the Jose Quintana trade). Maybe that’s something like the benchmark – if the Cubs fall more than 5.5 games back after the All-Star break, it’s time to consider options.
I don’t think that’s going to happen, mind you, but there’s no reason not to believe Hoyer when he says the Cubs are leaving everything on the table right now.
In a way, the Cubs have already said that they wouldn’t be ruling anything out in a situation like they’re in right now. This is Epstein from back in March:
#Cubs' Theo Epstein on fans' expectations:
"If we take care of business and put ourselves in position to be a legitimate World Series contender, we can put ourselves in position to add. … If we don't play well … there will be open-mindedness to signifcant transactions."
— McNeil & Parkins (@McNeil_Parkins) March 6, 2019
Open-mindedness to significant transactions.
Well, sir. July has arrived, and with it, trade season. The mind is open. And if we’re not talking about selling right now (I’m not there yet), then that means buying.
Ideally, a short-term (rental), solid veteran bat would be available to add to the second base or outfield mix (or third base by virtue of moving Kris Bryant to the outfield). Not everyone who could be available is an “impact” addition, but if you’re looking to make a useful addition soon for a rental that won’t cost you an arm and a leg, you might have to be – as they say – open-minded.
Howie Kendrick, as we’ve discussed, would be great. Nick Castellanos would definitely be a big bat. Neil Walker is hitting well for the Marlins. Logan Forsythe has at least bounced back to average, and the same with Kole Calhoun. Pablo Sandoval (lol) is raking this year. I’m sure the Pirates would love to move Corey Dickerson, who is also raking this year. Hunter Pence is an All-Star. Alex Gordon is hitting above average and still plays solid defense. Jarrod Dyson is probably hitting over his head, but is a nice player overall, and Adam Jones has been right around league average.
My point there is not necessarily to say PICK A GUY AND GO GET HIM, but only that there are absolutely going to be short-term rental types available this month, and given how dire the offensive holes at second base and in the third outfield spot have been, it wouldn’t take but a league-average bat to give the Cubs a significant boost. That is at once sad, and an opportunity.
Then, once you get a little more time to see what’s what, you could consider even more significant maneuvering at the zero hour on July 31. Maybe it will be clear by then that a huge bat addition is not necessary. Or is very necessary. Or is not advisable, because trading away valuable prospect chips at that point looks like a really bad idea.
Don’t rule anything out.