Morning Cubs Roundup: Not with a bang but a whimper
today at 10:12 am
Last Game: Marlins 2, Cubs 0
Up Next: Building a new team for a new year, hopefully, each better than the last.
I admit, I approached yesterday’s game with an inescapable feeling of ennui. I usually count myself among the hopeful. Even when I know a loss is likely I generally avoid becoming fatalistic. Maybe the grind that is 2020 had just worn me down. Or maybe it was just obvious, inevitable. This team, this world this core created, would not end with a bang…
Such an end fit the narrative for not just this season, but for the unfulfilled promise of a potential dynasty with this core. They succeeded at such a young age, it was easy to believe greater heights were ahead. Instead, 2016 was the peak, and because the ascent had been so sudden, we were unprepared for the gradual downward trajectory ever since.
For one October, the core pieces fit. Bryzzo forming a foundation, Javy producing a flair for excitement, Willson emerging as an uber-talented addition to their collection of young talent, and then Schwarber capping it all off with his inspirational World Series comeback.
It happened once, why not again? Why not many agains?
Sure, Javy became a better player after the World Series win. Even this year, we saw Willson Contreras vastly improve his greatest defensive flaw into a real strength. Individual parts made strides, but the whole… never seemed to progress. Or never seemed to mesh.
It became clear since 2016, that as great as their talents may be, their flaws were too similar. They didn’t make enough contact. They were too prone to hitting the ball on the ground when they did put the ball in play. They were too susceptible to the same types of pitches. Opposing pitchers could gameplan for all of them in the same manner. And once they found their footing against one, it was easy to get into a groove against the whole group.
The offense broke.
And because of the organization’s failure to develop their own pitching, they began trading away an entire wave of new young hitters to fill that hole. Those hitters would have offered an opportunity to change the offensive ingredients. Instead, the Cubs kept baking the same the cake from the same recipe, and expecting different results.
And now, here we are: Heading into an offseason were change has to occur, but under the worst circumstances over the past five winters to accomplish it. The core is banged up, physically and psychologically. Older, more expensive, and nearly out of team control. And though the situation could not be predicted, the trade market for players a year away from unrestricted free agency is probably the worst it has ever been.
In the midst of a pandemic which almost certainly will extend throughout the 2021 season and further impact revenues, many teams will prefer to bargain hunt on the free agent market while hording their cost controlled prospects as they weather the uncertain economic future. A couple of teams may get bold and look to boost their team by acquiring a Kris Bryant or Kyle Schwarber for a one year rental, but the Cubs won’t be only teams looking to unload such players either.
This front office faces its greatest challenge. They’ve spent the last two years desperately attempting to restructure and play catchup with the organizations who more quickly embraced the current leading trends in the industry. I applaud them for realizing their mistake, and I no longer feel like they are falling behind, but there is still ground to make up.
The pitching infrastructure is improving at a faster pace than the hitting. That is great to see, and long overdue. They showed it with the way they were able to identify and squeeze value out of their budget bullpen additions this season. Also with the way Alec Mills and Adbert Alzolay filled in for their injured veteran starters. They helped many of the guys develop new pitches or tweak existing repertoires. And just as important, after years of failure developing low ceiling/high floor college arms, the higher ceiling pitchers they began to focus more heavily on drafting the last couple of years will begin trickling into the upper Minors and Majors.
I have some hope on that side.
It is far more difficult to gauge where the Cubs stand with their hitting infrastructure. Outside of Ian Happ and Jason Heyward we haven’t seen much in the way of improvement at the Major League level. Many guys have regressed, in fact. And even in the cases of the two outfielders it has been more of return to previous levels after they had fallen off.
Much the same goes at the Minor League level. I love the complete overhaul they managed to accomplish with Brennen Davis, but there haven’t been many other recent success stories. Of course, the picture is also cloudied by the fact that the organization lacks much in the way of high ceiling bats in their system after the years of trades to sustain the pitching inventory at the MLB level.
What is clear, is that this front office cannot side idly by again this offseason. They can’t fix what’s wrong by adjusting the fringes of the roster like they have the last two years. If I return to the recipe metaphor from earlier, they’ve been trying to change the cake by replacing the icing on it each year. But it is the batter (I swear this was an unintended pun) which needs to be adjusted.
I don’t envy them their task.
Morning Cubs Roundup