I said my piece yesterday about where things stand relative to the Cubs’ recent slide, the month of July, and the plans for the July 30 Trade Deadline (short version: selling is now as likely as ever, but it remains the right plan to do nothing until the All-Star break and assess again then).
But I was curious what others were thinking after the ugliness of that series, which wound up taking me down a number of other buy-sell paths for the Cubs. Lots to get into.
Let’s start with Sahadev Sharma’s exhaustive take on what should the Cubs do after that series – which you can read here at The Athletic. While he and I agree on the course of action in the near-term – do nothing right at this very moment – he makes the point with a different, no less important backing. For me, the waiting is about two things: (1) making sure something crazy doesn’t happen in the standings in the interim, and (2) letting the buyer market develop later in the month. For Sharma, the waiting is about two similar but subtly distinct things: (1) you’re not going to be able to make good trades right now with your pieces anyway, and (2) it costs you nothing to wait.
Fans may be anxious to get the sell-off going, but it would make no sense to do so at this point. Hoyer already indicated what direction he was leaning this winter when he moved Yu Darvish, but the team’s performance in May temporarily put those plans on pause. But where things stand, it’s hard to imagine the Cubs becoming buyers again. Still, there’s no reason to rush the process.
Rizzo and Bryant are banged up and when they were on the field, they were not playing their best. Javier Báez is slumping and Ryan Tepera is injured. It wouldn’t make much sense to move them now without giving them July to regain some value ….
But why move closer Craig Kimbrel now? Unless a team bowls the Cubs over with an offer, they’re sitting in the catbird seat with him. Kimbrel’s track record and his 0.59 ERA make him far and away the best reliever who could be had at the deadline. The Cubs can feel confident that the Hall of Fame-caliber stopper will continue to perform in July as bidders start to line up.
Agreed on all of that. I think you could argue there is a SLIGHT risk in waiting (i.e., injury, and thus there is a mild cost in waiting), but if you made that argument, I’d just respond that the market isn’t developed yet, so good luck getting the right return. Buyers aren’t going to jump right now without knowing how else the market will evolve in the coming weeks – who else will become available, what might happen to them internally, what the market costs are going to be, what the dynamics of buying/selling within their own division will be, and so on.
A tough-but-true point that Sharma makes about all of this, by the way: Hoyer (and Theo Epstein before him) doesn’t really hide the ball on wanting to chart a clear course at midseason. When the team fades late in the year, that’s the worst kind of sting because it means you spent capital at the deadline *AND* didn’t add anything for the future. So if you’re leaning toward selling already – and the Yu Darvish trade sure has to be in the back of our minds – you’re probably going to break in that direction if things are close for fear that you’ll just miss another opportunity in favor of a September fade.
In other words, if you had to guess about Hoyer’s reaction to the Brewers sweep and its impact on the buy-sell question, it probably pushed him pretty firmly in the sell direction.
David Ross’s opinion on the matter is certainly an interesting one, and Sharma’s article shares Ross’s unfiltered thoughts at length. Among them:
“I don’t buy or sell, that’s not my job,” Ross said. “But the key is for us to represent a winning product, something that can win the division, go into the playoffs and do something special. That’s what we try to produce on a daily basis here. The front office is involved in all that and they’re also watching with an eye on, ‘Do you believe in this group and what they can do?’ And I think we have to prove that on a nightly basis ….
“You can paint the picture in a lot of different ways. But you can look at whether we have what it takes to win. From my standpoint, I definitely would push that yeah, we got a good chance to do something special this season. We gotta get everybody healthy, we gotta get back to playing good baseball, we gotta pitch a little bit better, we gotta continue to be better on offense. We’ve got little things that we’ve got to do better. But I don’t think this series defines our season.”
Not that it should surprise you that the manager still wants his front office to buy even after a series like that, but I genuinely do think Ross believes in this group if they were all healthy at the same time. He might be right, he might be wrong – I suspect we won’t truly have a chance to know this year – but it’s definitely an operative question as it relates to the buy-sell decision, since a big chunk of what Hoyer has to consider is whether he believes the Cubs will be considerably better in the second half.
That said, Ross is trying not to think about it too much on a daily basis.
“I know the Trade Deadline is on the [mind] of the outside world,” Ross said, per Cubs.com. “But I really think we’re focused on the day-to-day process. And we’ll continue to get guys back and play good baseball. I think we’ve got, still, things to work on, as I say a lot. I think we’re a good team.”
At a minimum, you can count Ross in the “at least wait another week” camp.
Meanwhile, I found Kevin Goldstein’s take on the Cubs – and all the NL teams – over at FanGraphs particularly interesting given his years of experience in the Astros’ front office.
As understood and expected, the final week of June took a hammer to the Cubs’ postseason odds, and for that reason, Goldstein’s previous expectation that the Cubs would be buyers has waned considerably:
Current Tenor: The Cubs looked like potential buyers in mid-June, but a disastrous week has put them back on the bubble. There is an open question in the industry as to whether the ownership group would even allow the front office to move big-ticket names like Javier Báez, Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant should the slide continue.
What They Are After: No matter how the club conducts business in the coming month, the roster will see significant changes in 2022. Instead of pure prospects, they will likely focus on 0-3 players should they look to kick-start their re-tooling.
Behavior: Still from the Epstein school, the Cubs tend to listen more than they speak, allowing potential trading partners a greater chance of over-paying.
A number of reactions there from me:
Regarding the trading of “big-ticket names,” I don’t think it’s quite as simple as “ownership wouldn’t allow it,” because that’s not how Tom Ricketts operates vis a vis his baseball ops crew. Instead, I think it’s more that Ricketts would have impressed upon Hoyer – and/or Hoyer simply implicitly understands after being here for so long – that there is an impact to trading, say, Rizzo for a marginal prospect that goes beyond that prospect’s future value in the organization. The impact on ticket sales, season tickets, TV ratings, etc. – that stuff all sounds like pure business consideration, but it does ultimately impact baseball operations in the long run, too, by way of the funds available for the baseball budget. And then there’s the consideration we’ve talked about before: the chances of re-signing these guys after the season if you’ve traded them. It goes down. It just does.
Does that mean I think Hoyer is just not going to consider dealing from those three? Nah. Of course he’ll consider it. He’ll weigh the return against the possible value of a compensatory draft pick and the possible value of retaining the player even in a losing season. It’s not a simple math equation, but it’s definitely closer to that than a hard-line “won’t trade them” situation.
To that end, let me move to a response to Goldstein’s final point, which was interest. More of a listening group than a talking group, eh? That’s definitely how the Cubs have presented themselves publicly – “We’re open to considering anything, you never say never, etc.” – but it’s interesting to hear someone who was in a front office, with whom these Cubs executives dealt, saying it. Maybe that makes it slightly more likely that the default position on Bryant/Báez/Rizzo is no trade? But if an actually compelling prospect offer comes, OK, done deal? Of course, none of that even matters if these guys don’t get healthy and pick back up the production.
Which then brings me back to Goldstein’s middle point about the type of return the Cubs will seek. With a recognition that most clubs would want MLB-ready guys rather than young prospects, we don’t have to look too far to see where Hoyer’s head is. Rather than taking a limited return of more MLB-ready type(s) from the Padres, the Yu Darvish deal was focused on four extremely young prospects. The hope was to go the high-upside, high-risk route over as many players as possible so that maybe one hits and becomes a star. Because you aren’t getting a guaranteed star in a trade these days. So, while I agree that the roster is gonna be overhauled by next year, and while I would argue that the Cubs do NOT want to tank 2022, I still think the focus in sell trades this month would be maximum prospect talent, regardless of age or MLB readiness. And I also think that’s the right approach. You want to fill roster spots in 2022? Free agency is gonna be stacked. And you have the money, gents.
Lastly, Sahadev Sharma and I got into this topic in the latest ‘Onto Waveland,’ too, if you want your fix in audio form:
🤦♂️ The Cubs terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad week
🤷 That's all for Arrieta?
📅 Next two weeks loom large
— The Athletic Chicago (@TheAthleticCHI) July 1, 2021