(I get asked about this topic on the regular, so I knew I had to write about it at some point. But you’re going to FEEL my ambivalence bleeding through in every corner of this post. Not ambivalence about what the Cubs do or don’t do going forward, but ambivalence about how we label things as of TODAY. I just don’t see much merit in the discussion.)
Chicago Cubs President Jed Hoyer recently spoke with the media, in part, about his refusal to identify the current process as “a rebuild.” Whatever exactly that means. I thought it worth sharing some of his comments and remarking on how I see things on this point, though I will tell you up front that, ultimately, I don’t think this is a particularly useful conversation at the moment because there is a lot of the planning that is being intentionally withheld from public discourse. What will be useful is evaluating what the Cubs actually do.
“If you want to label it that, that’s your job,” Hoyer said of dubbing this a rebuild, per the Sun-Times. “My job is to tell you what our plan is …. When (making moves for the present and future) are in conflict, we are going to look towards the future. I think our goal is to build something really special, just like it was last time. And I think sometimes to do that you have to take a long view. How you guys choose to label that, I think that’s your decision.”
Hoyer has consistently refused that label (even going back to the Trade Deadline last year), and I tend to think it’s one of those things that really doesn’t matter either way, since many of us have fundamentally different definitions of what a “rebuild” is anyway. So, while I may or may not agree with his take on a “rebuild,” I have no issue with him refusing to use that label – for him, it isn’t one. Shrug. It’s just a word. For you, any time a team sells off big-time at a Trade Deadline and doesn’t get aggressive the next offseason to ball out for a winner, the team is in a rebuild. Short-term, maybe, but a rebuild nonetheless. I have no problem with you using that word.
For me? This might be a rebuild. Or at least something I would call a rebuild. But it might not be, and there are near-term data points that are going to better answer the question for me than anything Hoyer might say right now.
Let me put it this way: if this isn’t a rebuild, the proof will be in the pudding very soon, because it will mean we aren’t looking at multiple full seasons of punting. Because once you get into that mode, it’s clearly a rebuild, by anyone’s definition, where you have decided you “cannot” succeed at the big league level until the wave of young prospects you’re accumulating actually arrive and succeed in the big leagues.
That’s what the Theo Epstein-led front office did at a very different time and place in the organization at the start of his stewardship of a deeply antiquated organization, and it’s not something that is necessary this time around. To me, that points against the idea that the Cubs are in the middle of another long rebuild.
Even Hoyer admits that full on tanking (i.e., losing intentionally) and gathering young talent, and relying almost entirely on that group for success (as the Cubs and Astros did) is not likely to be as effective as it was before anyway. Not that he’s going to explicitly lay out precisely what the Cubs are planning to do.
“I don’t think (that tanking-and-leaning-entirely-on-internal-development strategy) has the same impact that it once did,” Hoyer said, per The Athletic. “So I do think it has to be a little different. I also don’t think it’s my job to lay out exactly what the strategy is. I think that would be pretty dumb. I think there’s a desire for transparency, which I totally understand. If I’m not doing a good job of that then I need to work on how I explain things. But at the same time, I also don’t think it’s my job or it’d be foolish to sit here and tell everyone exactly how much money we’re going to spend, who we want to sign and exactly what our timeline is. That’d be giving us a competitive disadvantage because no one else is doing that either. Trying to be transparent while also keeping your cards close to the vest can be challenging.”
So, circling back to why I tend to think this whole conversation is pretty fruitless right now: it’s going to be an actions-have-to-speak-louder-than-words situation at the deadline this year, and in the offseason. If there are more moves like adding Marcus Stroman and Seiya Suzuki types to CLEARLY supplement the 2023 team and try to win (MORE than this year), then, OK, I can see the merits and it’s not something I would call “a rebuild.” But if it’s another deadline of selling off for very young prospects, and then an offseason of signing mostly one-year, low-risk deals? It’ll be pretty hard to argue this isn’t another multi-year rebuild in the same vein as what came before.
Personally, I can see the path to having a much more on-paper competitive roster in 2023 without doing any real harm/risk to future seasons.
But Hoyer emphasized to The Athletic that longer-term, right now, is still going to trump short-term, and did so with a reference to a period of time that was CLEARLY a rebuild, so ….
“The thing that I’ve tried to emphasize over and over in various ways, and Theo did this a lot going back to 2013 and 2014, is that there are going to be moments in time where you have to make a decision and sometimes the current and the future are in conflict,” Hoyer said. “Whether it’s trading prospects to get a now-player or doing a really long deal on a free agent, when those things are in conflict, we are going to look toward the future. Our goal is to build something really special just like it was last time. Sometimes to do that, you have to take a long view.”
That sure sounds like what we think of as a multi-year rebuild. But it’s just words. Much like his and Tom Ricketts’ previous indications that the 2022 Cubs would be competitive. I have no doubt they would (and will!) call the 2023 Cubs competitive, too. I really can’t take much away from mere words in any direction.
So, again, I don’t think we can really know until we actually see what happens at the Trade Deadline and in this coming offseason. Hoyer won’t call it a rebuild. OK. Fine. Just seems like a meaningless discussion right now.
I’ll have more thoughts on it after the Trade Deadline, and then as the offseason proceeds. But a lot of you are gonna hate me, because I think we won’t have a great sense until the team is actually in Spring Training next year. So much can (and should!) happen between now and then with an eye toward actually competing in 2023.