Despite how we may remember that time, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows when Theo Epstein first arrived in Chicago.
Sure, we were all elated for the Cubs to land such a renowned executive for their new Baseball Operations department, but there was still so much hard work (and boring summers) ahead of us … a reality Epstein reminded us of often. “You can’t turn an ocean liner on a dime,” and whatnot.
But that’s the difference between that era of Chicago Cubs baseball and today: Even when it sucked, we generally knew what we were getting into … because they told us. At any point along the following timeline, I would have been able to explain the broader concept of what the Cubs were going for at that particular time. And that helped me contextualize and understand every move, even the ones I didn’t like.
- 2012-2014: Rebuilding. Full stop. Sign short term contracts, flip players at the deadline, draft high, acquire prospects at all costs.
- 2015: Start promoting prospects (COOKIES!), sign some key free agents, crack the window open. If we win, we win. No hard feelings if we come up short.
- 2016-2018: We are ALL IN. This is our chance to win. We will trade away our best prospects to keep this window alive.
- 2019-2020: We’re just going to ride it out and hope for the best.
- 2021-2022: (We’re totally not) Rebuilding. Okay, yeah we are.
- 2023: ???
But now? Not so much.
After missing out this offseason on theoretical fits like Jose Abreu, Kodai Senga, Christian Vázquez, Sean Murphy, and Chris Bassitt, not to mention Carlos Correa, Trea Turner, and Xander Bogaerts, I’m not sure where we are. OR where we’re supposed to be headed. I don’t know what to root for, which players to target, what to get excited about. Nothing. It’s not great.
And the worst part is that I like to think I was being realistic in terms of the tier of free agency I was hoping/expecting the Cubs to target this winter. I wasn’t out there beating the drum for Aaron Judge, Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, or Carlos Rodon. But it’s difficult to believe they made serious efforts for any of the above — not when Senga, Vázquez, Murphy, Bassitt were all acquired at relatively reasonable prices. If they were aggressive, if they really wanted them, they could have landed them.
But I guess they didn’t, and that’s news to us, because I thought we were supposed to be turning a page this offseason. Then again, how could I know. The messaging (and action) has been all over the place.
- This is not a rebuild.
- The timeline of the prospects we acquired for Yu Darvish is not our timeline.
- We have to trade away the core.
- Look, we signed Marcus Stroman and Seiya Suzuki!
- We’re going back to “intelligent spending” only this offseason
- The Cubs are not ready to go “all in” on spending this offseason.
- Jed Hoyer has the “green light” to spend from Tom Ricketts.
- The Cubs might be able to land more than one free agent shortstop!
And so on.
But listen, it’s not the Cubs job to tell me what they’re going to do. They don’t owe me that. But we don’t owe them anything in return. There’s a benefit to transparency and a cost to keeping us in the dark. And not just an amorphous cost, either. I won’t speak for any of you, but right now, I’m having a bad time as a Cubs fan. And you know what that makes me less likely to do? Buy expensive Cubs gear. Buy expensive Cubs tickets. Subscribe to expensive TV Networks. Get my friends excited about the season. And so on.
So, sure, it’s entirely their choice to keep us in the dark. And maybe there’s even some implicit advantage to that. But there are costs too, and we, as fans, wear the brunt of that.
Setting all of this aside for a moment: Dansby Swanson is still available. He is unanimously considered the fourth best shortstop of this bunch, but he’s still very good and he’s still out there. The Cubs will probably have to overpay him at this point (he’s in a great market position at the moment), but maybe he’s the one they always wanted. Or maybe they never wanted any of them. How would we know?
As a reminder, at the end of the year, the Cubs will lose Ian Happ, Kyle Hendricks, Yan Gomes, and Cody Bellinger to free agency. Meanwhile, Marcus Stroman could opt out, Nico Hoerner will have just two years remaining, and the Cubs will have burned the first two seasons of Seiya Suzuki, who will be approaching 30, on … whatever this is.