When team president Jed Hoyer spoke to the media after an 11-game losing streak that changed the course of the 2021 season and the future of the Cubs franchise, he would not use the word “rebuild” to describe what would come next.
At the time, Hoyer referenced teams like the Red Sox or Yankees as templates he might like to follow. In both cases, those teams had success, let go of key players, and then retooled and were quickly competitive again.
Or there’s the Giants. San Francisco was arguably the best team of the 2010s, and as the new decade gets underway, they’re at the top of the standings again.
Either way, the thinking within the Cubs organization seems to be that they plan to take their own course back to being a winning team.
“I think when you start chasing other organizations’ ways of doing things, you might lose sight of what you find important,” manager David Ross said Sunday.
Even while his team was being swept by the Giants, Ross felt comfortable with the Cubs’ blueprint for success.
“We also want to stay true to the things that we have been a part of here and recognize in winning, and make sure we do things the way the Cubs do,” he said.
In the past, the Cubs way of building a winner meant a full teardown. It meant 100-loss seasons and top draft picks. And it worked.
But Cubs fans aren’t likely to be patient through seasons like 2012 and 2013 again, when the team was at its nadir. The good news is that the recipe for fielding a competitive team again, and quickly, isn’t complicated.
“I think pitching and defense,” Ross said. “We want to be able to compete on the mound, play solid defense.”
Defensively, the Cubs are fine, but not excellent like they were during their championship season in 2016. This year, they rank 11th in MLB in defensive runs saved (34). In 2016, the Cubs were tops in baseball by 30 runs saved at 107.
Poor pitching is one of the main reasons the Cubs have had two 11-game losing streaks this season — as a whole, the pitching staff’s 4.75 ERA is the seventh-highest in baseball. The starting rotation’s 5.16 ERA has them in company with the Twins, Pirates, and Orioles at the bottom of MLB.
And though Ross does not want his team emulating the rebuild or retooling processes of other organizations, he has found himself looking across the diamond and taking note of things he wants to see from Cubs teams in the future.
“Some of the things I think I’ve noticed in the group over there and some of the teams, like commanding the strike zone, having calm at bats no matter the moment,” Ross said. “Doesn’t matter who the opposing team brings in, you get the same quality at-bat, things like that.”
Back in July, weeks before Hoyer traded the core of the 2016 team — Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, and Javier Baez — his sights were set on what it would look like to build “the next great Cubs team,” as he described it.
What pieces from the current iteration will be a part of the next core aren’t clear yet, but what is clear is that Hoyer isn’t planning for a drawn out rebuild, and Ross has a distinct vision for the kind of team he wants to manage.
Both visions could mean the Cubs are active in the offseason. Pitching is an obvious need, and there will be a decent market. Offensively, they’re trending toward higher contact rates and fewer strikeouts and will need to bolster with at least one power bat.
On the whole, the next winning team will be about consistency.
“Things that you can bring every single day,” as Ross puts it.
CUBS AT PHILLIES
Tuesday: Adrian Sampson (0-2, 2.20) vs. Kyle Gibson (10-6, 3.38), 6:05 p.m., Marquee, 670-AM
Wednesday: Alec Mills (6-6, 4.35) vs. Ranger Suarez (6-4, 1.38), 6:05 p.m., Marquee, 670-AM
Thursday: Kyle Hendricks (14-6, 4.54) vs. TBD, 5:05 p.m., Marquee, 670-AM