The Chicago Cubs may not have a general manager, but they do have two presidents! Jed Hoyer is the president of baseball operations and Crane Kenney is the president of business operations. And together, they run the Chicago Cubs organization. Theoretically, Kenney has zero influence on the baseball side of things, but you can draw a straight line from his job (generating revenue, which helps set the baseball budget) to Hoyer’s job (using that budget to mold the Cubs into a winner), so their perspective on what’s coming is useful fodder for discussion.
Recently, both presidents addressed the future of the club, and, at a minimum, demonstrated the sort of self-awareness you’d hope to see out of those in-charge: “Let me also say to our fans,” Crane Kenney said, per NBCSC, “we know our current play on the field is not what you expect or deserve. And we assure you that winning another World Series continues to be our No. 1 goal.”
Empty words? Eh, maybe a little. It is, of course, the goal of every organization to win the World Series. But hey, even if you’re one the more skeptical among us, and you believe that the actual No. 1 goal of Kenney/the Cubs is to make as much money as possible, well, winning the World Series is an extremely good way to do it. Period.
But I’m not quite so cynical, personally. Although I didn’t see the same championship-caliber roster when I went to Wrigley Field on Saturday, I do see an organization with a ton of flexibility in every conceivable way. The payroll is minuscule going forward. The prospect capital is as high as it has been in five years (and arguably going up). The roster has about as many vacancies as any team could imagine (which opens a lot of doors). And all this comes just ahead of a brand new Collective Bargaining Agreement. We may not like the way we got here, but now that we’re here, I’m not actually sure the situation is quite as dire as it appears.
Heck, even on the field, things probably aren’t quite as bad as they seem: “We’re playing shorthanded,” Jed Hoyer said, per NBCSC. “And I think that’s very clear. We’re not going to be playing shorthanded going forward.”
The Cubs, having traded away such a substantial chunk of their roster, are not playing with the kind of team you would otherwise construct at the start of a season. Hoyer is effectively saying this group, plucky though they may be, is not exactly what you’d put together for the Cubs in 2022.
It’s not even just the guys the Cubs have traded away, either. At the moment, the Cubs are without Willson Contreras, Nico Hoerner, Nick Madrigal, and Adbert Alzolay. Would any one (or even all four) of those guys make a meaningful difference in the standings? No. Not likely. But let’s not pretend like missing three starting-caliber position players and a starting pitcher is nothing. The team is likely better off at present than it appears on the field. That’s just the reality. It is *not* good enough. But it is not as bad as it seems.
And Hoyer knows that: “My guess is that we’ll find some interesting things over the next two months,” Hoyer said. “But those will be probably individual, one-off things that we can use going forward. And it’s exciting to let these guys have opportunities to play and to prove that.”
The list of things the Cubs can find out – or at least begin to find out – is significant. In the rotation, they have four starters auditioning for long-term role: Keegan Thompson, Justin Steele, Adbert Alzolay, and Alec Mills. In the bullpen, there are three guys attempting to stake a claim on a seventh-inning or later role next season: Rowan Wick, Manny Rodriguez, Codi Heuer. And on the positional side, we still need to learn what kind of starter Nico Hoerner can be, what type of role Rafael Ortega, Patrick Wisdom, Frank Schwindel, and Michael Hermosillo can play, and whether guys like Ian Happ, David Bote, and Matt Duffy have any significant Cubs playing time in their future.
Now, even still, I concede that those are mostly peripheral roster decisions. When the Cubs traded away Kris Bryant, Javy Báez, Anthony Rizzo, and Craig Kimbrel (and probably also Ryan Tepera and Andrew Chafin) they let go of nearly all of their star/impact talent. And that means that even if every single one of those “let’s wait and see” guys broke out, the team is still probably not good enough to compete – legitimately – next season.
But Jed Hoyer knows that. Or, at least, he responded with a “Sure,” when asked if the Cubs must add impact talent this offseason in order to avoid a “2012-style rebuild,” which has been their refrain.
And that’s sort of where I’m at right now. I know so many of you are in “I’ll believe it when I see it” mode, but I’m just one-step more optimistic than that. The Cubs have SO MUCH money available to spend and enough prospects and young pre-arb players to make an impactful trade if they wanted to go that route, not using it … doesn’t really make any sense. Now, we can disagree on how they might go about spending their money – some smart folks prefer the top-end shorter-term plays (think of how the San Francisco Giants went about this last offseason) as well as some meaningful starting pitching, but I think one truly big offensive addition makes sense if the guy is young enough … and there are several options out there.
Either way, two things seem clear to the two Cubs presidents: (1) The current product on the field is sub-par, and (2) the only way to change that – meaningfully – before next season will be through significant external investment. Now it’s up to them to actually do it, and get it right.
Brett Taylor contributed to this post.