It was about an hour before the MLB trading deadline on Friday afternoon. Kyle Hendricks took to the outfield on the visitors’ side of the National Park to play wrestling as he always does the day before he leaves. By the time he returned to the Chicago Cubs clubhouse, the team he helped lead to the 2016 World Series title was unrecognizable.
It had been emptied.
“I didn’t know the full range until I got back,” Hendricks said over the weekend. “It was really, really hard. It still is. It’s going to take a while to process. It’s just a lot different here without these guys. It was crazy 24 hours. Still probably processing everything. It’s going to take a while. time. “
Hendricks and the few remnants of a team that ended a 108-year franchise title shortage are starting anew. But does that mean the Cubs are in full rebuild mode again, with years of mediocrity ahead of them? Or does the president of baseball operations, Jed Hoyer, have a faster plan?
While his actions regarding trade deadlines seem to put the old strategy on the line, he says it’s actually the opposite: The Cubs’ dramatic dismantling in July will hasten their return to fame.
Understanding the future of the team begins with understanding what led to the elimination of four all-star players. It was years in the making.
“You don’t let a crisis go to waste”
A sequence of events – some brought on by the Cubs themselves and others the cost of doing so almost every year – left Hoyer with little choice. This included:
The inability of the Cubs to sign all from their major players other than Hendricks to long-term agreements. It’s a sore point with both Hoyer and former senior executive Theo Epstein. They believe they made fair offers, but were turned down every round.
“This will probably be my biggest source of frustration during this time,” Hoyer told Chicago Radio Monday morning.
· Due to the nature of the Cubs’ rebuilding, many key players were on the same refereeing clock. Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and others started to get dear at the same time, and all were on the verge of becoming independent.
The Cubs never produced the next wave of talent behind their 2016 champions, especially on the mound, meaning the team’s continued success depended on the same group.
They traded the best young talent they had available to plug the holes while trying to maintain a winning window. Meanwhile, players who have won a championship never regained that level, and this was only amplified by the lack of reinforcements in the roster and rotation.
· The organization has stopped spending. After Yu Darvish came to Chicago on a six-year contract ahead of the 2018 season, the only significant signing of the offseason was Craig Kimbrel’s $ 43 million three-year contract. The Cubs then dumped Darvish – and the $ 59 million remaining on his $ 126 million contract – just when he was doing his best. During the pandemic, the owners said they were taking “biblical losses” and were taken from a 2020 playoff squad instead of adding to it.
· Finally, the team prepared for this very specific position by compiling a list full of upcoming free agents. Darvish has been replaced by Zach Davies, who is at the end of his six-year arc of team control. Joc Pederson signed a one-year contract, as did Trevor Williams and Jake Arrieta. When the team fell out of the race, Hoyer had to either make the moves he made last week or risk seeing half the team leave at the end of the season with nothing to show.
“You don’t let a crisis go to waste,” Hoyer said after Friday’s deadline. “There is no reason to go halfway.”
With all of that in mind, Hoyer stepped into the deadline knowing that committing to swapping one lead meant committing to the possibility of swapping them all. He just needed to hear the good comeback for Bryant, Baez, Anthony Rizzo and Craig Kimbrel.
“With every trade we were targeting players that we really liked and we wouldn’t change positions,” he said. “Was it emotionally difficult? Yes. Do I think it was absolutely the right thing for the organization?
How does this compare to the last rebuild?
At the end of 2011, Hoyer and his former boss, Epstein, chose a direction for the franchise that ultimately led to a World Series title. In part, because of changes to the collective agreement, the couple decided that a complete teardown was the way to go and they set out to build their team from scratch – although it took a dip to get there. to arrive.
While Friday’s moves look like the start of a similar plan, Hoyer has committed to nothing but profiting from a roster full of free agents.
“I actually think we’ve speeded things up a lot over the last few days,” Hoyer said. “We’re going to sit down and figure out how we’re going to build the next great Cubs team. I don’t care if it looks like you’re competing or you finish in second place. I care about trying to win championships. . “
Even so, it is shocking to see such a talented group of players disappear in 24 hours. Particularly unlike what another team in the same division with a similar record, the St. Louis Cardinals, did – or didn’t – on the deadline. Although it did not live up to the expectations set when it acquired Nolan Arenado this winter, St. Louis has resisted the urge to shy away from its roster and gather perspectives. In fact, the Cardinals added on the edges by swapping for veteran starters JA Happ and Jon Lester.
“Overall, we always want to compete,” said president of baseball operations John Mozeliak. “I hope we can get into this race and make some noise, still in the Central… We still believe in this team, but we also believe in where we are going next year, which has been essential in our decision making. “
The Cardinals also have little hope of catching the Milwaukee Brewers this season, but Mozeliak’s strategy is to keep moving forward while the Cubs reset themselves.
“Obviously the approach was very different, but they were in a place where they had a lot of contracts expiring,” Mozeliak said. “You have a team that has turned the page around 2022 and there are a few that are still worried about 2021.”
Now the question is when the Cubs will once again field a team capable of competing with the Cardinals and Brewers at the top of the division.
“The goal is how to build the next big Cubs team, not how to build the next OK Cubs team,” Hoyer said. “I don’t know what we’re going to do yet, so nobody knows what we’re going to do yet.
“The obvious thing here is to compare things to what we used to do.”
But Hoyer insists they’re not repeating 2012. They’ve infused an improving farming system with 11 new faces in the past few weeks, and they’ve got four more from the Darvish trade.
Will they sign one of the many free agent shortstops available this offseason to speed up the process? Are they going to reverse some of the prospects they just gained for major league talent? Or maybe the longer approach will be needed again. The plan has not yet been established.
“That path could mean letting the garden grow for a long time because you have to let those prospects ripen,” Hoyer said. “And sometimes that can mean speeding it up through free agency.”
There are already parts in place. Nick Madrigal, acquired by trading Craig Kimbrel to the White Sox, joins 2018 first-round pick Nico Hoerner as cornerstones of the infield. Wide receiver Willson Contreras said over the weekend he would like to stay and Hendricks is signed until 2024. The Cubs will test young pitchers over the next two months with hopes of building up the remainder of the rotation at instead of buying one.
“We trust the people around us,” said Hendricks. “Whatever the plan, obviously they have a plan in place. We’re just going to trust that.
“We don’t know where we are going, but I know that things will be fine in the end.”
When asked if there was an interesting business history of a frenzy several weeks before the deadline, Hoyer paused and moved it forward instead.
“I don’t want to be on this (subtract) side of the deal,” he replied. “That’s the thing I would say the most. I have a lot of respect for the teams we’ve dealt with. They were ready to go. And that’s what you should do.”