Let me say up front that Cubs President Jed Hoyer is completely right that it’s too early to talk about the Trade Deadline as it relates to the Cubs making plans. Like we discussed recently, even though the “it’s early” excuse will wear thin particularly soon this year, I don’t think it makes much sense to be talking about Trade Deadline planning much before June. So mid-April, even looking as bad as the Cubs have looked, ain’t it.
But that’s not all Hoyer said on the topic, as noted in a well-crafted write-up over at NBC Sports Chicago. There, Gordon Wittenmyer correctly notes that even if the Cubs aren’t going to be talking Trade Deadline anytime soon, it’s impossible to ignore the realities of this roster, the performance of the players, and the expectations for what comes next.
Hoyer is aware of that context, and even he knows “it’s early,” but it’s not that early.
“You have to look at that appropriately,” he said when asked about keeping perspective during the low-octane start 12 games into a 162-game season. “You can’t go crazy. I always try to look at it like if a guy’s got a 1.500 OPS right now or 1.300 OPS, you have to take that with a grain of salt, and then you have to take the .500 OPS with a grain of salt as well. It’s a long season.
“But we saw our team struggle at the end of last year offensively, and we’ve seen some struggles going back a few years,” he added. “So you can’t just wipe everything away as a small sample. Trying to balance that is really important.”
Whether that perspective impacts Trade Deadline planning or not (it almost certainly will in a little over a month), it certainly impacts the way you start projecting out the team’s performance. The Cubs being 5-7 right now, in isolation, would tell you basically nothing about how the next couple months could go, and the shape the Cubs could be in by July for a postseason run. It’s just not enough of a sample.
But HOW the Cubs have played – the problems that have been so very manifest – is plenty enough to tell you at least some things at the margins. Because, like Hoyer said, the types of struggles we are seeing from certain players is an echo of things we’ve seen before. Seeing it right out of the gate this year is at least somewhat suggestive of a strong possibility that the issues – contact, mostly – will not just disappear in the light of a new season.
Moreover, I’d add that the Cubs were constructed in such a way that they could not succeed unless they got 70th percentile outcomes from their rotation, to pair with a significant bounces back up and down the lineup. If the lineup isn’t going to do that, then you’re talking about needing, what, 90th percentile outcomes throughout your rotation in order to be successful? I’m willing to wager that the Cubs’ bullpen will keep on succeeding as they move guys in and out, but I don’t think it’s at all reasonable to expect the front five to all keep ERAs around 3.00 *AND* throw 160+ innings this year. Even then I’m not sure it would be enough to make up for an offense like this, at least not without a gargantuan bounce back in contact rate from here, which looks less likely by the day.
Oh, also? The Cubs’ nominal 6/7th starter, Shelby Miller, a guy we were really excited about the possibility of upside? Well, he debuted today and couldn’t get an out or, after a couple batters, throw a strike. So that’s certainly another problem in the equation here.
None of this is to say the starting pitching can’t be great overall, thanks in part to what should still be a good defense. It’s not to say Miller can’t figure out what the heck was up today, and be fine going forward. It’s not even to say that enough guys in the lineup might not right the ship sufficiently to get this group back to “average.” And it’s certainly not to say I’m completely done thinking about how this group could put a streak together and keep the focus on winning the division.
Instead, it’s all to say, as Hoyer did, that we’ve come into this year with a whole lot more than a blank slate. We know things about this group, and about the potentially significant flaws. That informs how we set expectations going forward, even as quickly as mid-April.
And although I agree with Hoyer that it’s too early to talk about Trade Deadline plans, that’s another area where we came into this year with a whole lot more than a blank slate. We know the trade machinations were already long in motion on some of these players. We know that cutting some costs this year would not be frowned upon, nor would banking some extra losses and moving draft position if the team didn’t look competitive anyway. We know that if the team doesn’t look really darn good by June, it was already half-constructed to sell.