CHICAGO – It’s been quite a few months for a team that spend the last half-decade trying everything they could to keep their competitive window open since the middle of the 2015 season.
With Theo Epstein now out of the picture, Jed Hoyer taking over, and the team facing a number of contracts coming up at the end of the 2021 season, the future takes priority over the present.
Some might have thought the first big move with a major player would have come from those in the core with little time left on their contract. Instead, Hoyer decided to trade Yu Darvish, the Cy Young Award runner-up in the National League with three years left on an expensive contract, along with Victor Caratini to the Padres.
They get proven starter Zach Davies in return along with four very young prospects – outfielders Owen Caissie, Ismael Mena, and Yeison Santana along with shortstop Reggie Preciado.
Money-saving moves, right? Signs of a new rebuild? It sure seems like that when looking at the deal on the surface.
Hoyer rebutted that thought when he spoke on Wednesday for the first time since the trade, denying that such a process has begun with the defending 2020 NL Central Champions.
“When we got here, at least in our opinion, we didn’t have the ‘bones’ for a competitive team. We went completely in one direction at that point. That’s not the case now. We’ve got really good players, championship players. It’s a different calculus now,” said Hoyer. “You’re always thinking about things in a different way. So I’m not gonna run the same playbook in 2011 and 2012. That would be foolish and, frankly, that playbook has been copied so many times it doesn’t work the same anymore
“When I think about what we need to do, Theo talked a lot about threading that needle, we need to make moves with one eye on the future, but we also have a really competitive team.”
But one that still has a lot of decisions to make on their roster with players like Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, and Anthony Rizzo, all of whom are out of club control after this season. It’s the difficult choices that many saw coming even two years ago, and now they’ve arrived as the Cubs have reached a crossroads.
The Darvish deal, along with other potential moves in the future, are done in Hoyer’s eyes to start a bit of a new “window” for the team. It’s not exactly the one that got the team a coveted World Series title in 2016, but rather a retool of sorts that could return the Cubs to the elite in the league sooner than later.
Stocking up the farm system, which was depleted in the “win now” trades from 2016-2019, is a major priority while trying to keep enough on the roster to produce a winner.
“There are plenty of examples of teams that were able to have a small reset or make a move in that direction, and it really helped them. The Yankees and the Red Sox, in particular, I use them as examples,” said Hoyer. “There are teams that never had that opportunity, or chose not to take it. The Giants and the Phillies and the Tigers would be those examples.
“I think it’s important to us as you come to the end of this run as we’ve invested so much financial capital and so much prospect capital in this group, I think that the former group is the group I’d want to be in and not the latter group as far as the post-run, post-window transition looked.”
So perhaps the trades aren’t done when it comes to core players, though Hoyer said that a trade of catcher Willson Contreras wasn’t imminent, contrary to reports. Despite the fact that this is a shift from the Cubs’ thinking over the past few years, and the negative reaction from the fanbase, Hoyer still believes the team can defend it’s division title in 2021.
“I think this deal, getting back a pitcher, like I said, getting back a pitcher of a caliber like Zach Davies certainly helps that,” said Hoyer “I really believe that we will compete in this division but we’re also, as we do that, we’re not gonna be shy about saying that our future is important and that we don’t want to end up like some of those teams I mentioned.
“There are contractual realities to this core group. The fact that we haven’t been able to get these guys to sign extensions that we felt like were the right value and so we haven’t gotten extensions. So as a result, there are contractual realties to how long we control some of these players, and I think we’d be foolish not to keep that in mind as we move forward.”
A few familiar names could do the same as a new thinking permeates through 1060 W. Addison Street.