The Next Five Years: Opening Thoughts
today at 6:38 am
I’ve been trying, and failing, to organize all of the disparate thoughts floating through in my head regarding recent events related to the Cubs, from Theo’s resignation, to news that Sinclair Broadcasting will begin offering a standalone RSN service sometime in 2021, to rumors regarding just how much payroll the Cubs must slash for next season, to finally Jed Hoyer’s ascension to the role of President of Baseball Operations.
I had hoped to form a cohesive narrative, maybe even an outline for a fire-year plan to line up with Hoyer’s new contract. But there is so much uncertainty right now, for the world, the global economy, the country, the state, the city, down to the psyche of each and every individual attempting to navigate what is happening right now and what is to come. I’ve accepted I am not operating at my best. I’m not sure anyone else is either. So, as I’ve failed to coalesce all I want to say into a single line of thought, I’ve decided to tackle this in more of stream of consciousness style. Instead of laying out a plan before embark, I’m just going to lay the track as I go forward, and hopefully through a series of posts devoted to musing on the near and five year future of the Cubs I can arrive at a sensible destination.
Even if I end up navigating into an impassible mountain, or off a cliff, or multiple mountains and multiple cliffs, this will still do me some good to think and write about, and hopefully the same goes for my readers as well.
Here we go
The future of a franchise is always difficult to predict, even in a sport like baseball dominated by analytical analysis and trends. There is always that pesky human element, which can allow emotion to overrule numbers in a spreadsheet.
And the human most in control of the Cubs fate in the coming years is now Jed Hoyer, and only Jed Hoyer, because I sense an unexpected dynamic brewing. No one doubted Theo Epstein was in charge over the past nine years, but fair or not, the Cubs front office was often viewed as a collective. Epstein, Hoyer, even Jason McLeod and others were treated as a sort of Ivy League-family-group-think-tank. No one received all of the praise when things went right, and no one received the blunt of the blame when poor decisions were made. I don’t believe Hoyer will granted the same luxury.
It’s possible Hoyer is set up to take all of the blame for future failures, but but I’m not sure how much praise he’ll receive if things turn around for the Cubs and they regain their championship form. Yes, he’s the man at the top. Someone identifiable to fans, a link to the World Series fulfillment, but also the slow erosion of dynastical hopes since. His leash will be short with the fanbase, and because of the status quo roster decisions of the past couple years, people watching the franchise are desperate to see new ideas and new viewpoints injected into what remains of the Cubs collective. Whoever is hired to be the new GM will be seen as that agent of change, and if the changes lead to success, it isn’t difficult to envision that GM receiving the largest share of the accolades.
Which is all to say, I’m not sure Jed is set up to receive a fair shake, one way or the other. That’s a tough spot to be in. Of course, if he ends up guiding the Cubs to another World Series title, I’m sure he’ll manage to console himself, regardless of how much credit he receives.
Changes are coming
If you haven’t figured it out already, let me inform you: this is going to be a slow offseason.
And not just for the Cubs. The baseball offseason has always been the slowest of the major sports and it is only going to worse this time around. It has become common to see talented players still looking for work as Spring Training and even the regular season kick off. Again, expect that trend to be magnified this time around.
We aren’t seeing trades right now. We are not seeing signings. Clubs are biding their time, and pairing back their payroll where they can, and will do so even more once a swath of players are non-tendered come December 2nd. My guess is most front offices have not even received final budget numbers for next season from their owners because as of now, no one knows for sure when the season will start, or if fans will be allowed in, or if a vaccine could be ready sometime in 2021, or even if there is whether enough people will trust it and actually show up to games, etc, etc, etc.
Clubs are going to wait. As long as possible. I think we’ll see teams cut back as far as they can come December 2nd, then between that time and the holidays we’ll see a flurry of movement from the teams with enough flexibility (or owners willing to take risks). The activity will likely be limited to the top and maybe the bottom of the market. We’ll probably see a couple J.T. Realmuto level free agents sign. We’ll also see some trades involving the likes of Francisco Lindor or other impact talents.
It’s possible the Cubs can make an early move like a Kris Bryant trade during this window. I don’t believe Kris Bryant will be any team’s Plan A, maybe not even Plan B. Not at his salary, not coming off the season he just had. But once a couple of the surer bets are off the board, the teams with hopes to compete in 2021 who miss out, will have to turn to the riskier paths, Bryant included.
I’d love to say Kyle Schwarber could also be an early mover. Clearing the salaries of Bryant and Schwarber would give the Cubs plenty of flexibility to make changes to their roster construction as they attempt to fix the offense. I’m not sure a quick resolution is possible for the Cubs though. Like with Bryant, Schwarber is not going to be any team’s top choice. Hoyer will likely need to wait out the market for a bit.
Yes, the Cubs are going to make every player on their roster available this offseason, and explore all avenues for change, but there are still preferred routes that they would like to take, and it is worth a little patience to pursue them. As I see it, the Cubs best route for shaking up the makeup of the offense is to move Bryant and Schwarber rather than Rizzo and/or Baez, who still seem the most likely to sign extensions.
If the Cubs can’t move one or both of those two in December… I think the Cubs are going to be forced into making moves around the edges of the roster again until we get closer to Spring Training, and fans will get restless. Who am I kidding, fans will be pissed.
But come spring teams will have a better idea of their financial outlook and could be more willing to take on risk. I can envision the Cubs being a major trade player just before the start of the season, and then extending into it. But until then? I don’t believe it will move as quickly as fans hope.
The only other path to quick change I can envision is if another team makes an offer for one of the players coming off a better season that the Cubs can’t refuse. Maybe a team who sees an upgrade at catcher as vital that then misses out on Realmuto targets Willson Contreras as the answer, and is willing to pay handsomely to make it happen. Maybe a team in need of an impact starter, but doesn’t want to commit to a long term UFA contract chases hard for Yu Darvish.
The Cubs really need that first domino to fall. The questions are who will it be, and when? While I’m prepared for the answers to be Bryant, and a long wait, the Cubs will attempt to set things in motion as quickly as possible, and that means seriously listening on everyone. Unfortunately, because they need trades to kick things off, the Cubs can’t really set their own timetable. They are going to be dependent on some other club pursuing their talent. And that could take a week, it could take months.
I think this is a good stopping point for today. I’ll pick things back up tomorrow morning, and maybe try to turn my focus beyond 2021.
Morning Cubs Roundup