After a confusing trade deadline in which the Cubs held a trap Willson Contreras and (less surprisingly) an outfielder Ian Happ, they are currently 15 games out of first place in the NL Central 19 games under .500 and 23rd in the Majors with a -74 run differential. It’s a 67-win pace that puts them on course for an even worse finish than in 2021, when they went 71-91.
Despite the poor results and farm system ranked 18th by ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel in his post-trade deadline update, Cubs owner Tom Ricketts stated in a statement to the Chicago Tribune that the Cubs are “making progress” in their “plan to return to championship contention.”
As one would expect, Ricketts’ comments were vague and lacking in detail. He praised manager David Ross’ ability to keep the roster “playing hard,” lamented some injuries on the pitching staff that made the rotation less competitive than hoped, and cited the number of one- and two-run games the Cubs have. was involved as evidence of how close his club is to competition. Of course, Ricketts didn’t address the lack of pitching depth that made those rotation injuries so problematic (and necessitated the glut of one-year layoffs in the first place), nor did he mention the 19 times the Cubs lost by five. or more runs this season.
More broadly, Ricketts promised to be “very active again” regarding the free-agent market. There’s no denying that the Cubs, who signed a dozen players to Major League contracts last winter, were indeed “active” in free agency, but the vast majority of their signings were small-scale transactions that barely moved the needle. for the organization. The Cubs opportunistically signed Marcus Stroman to an agreement that disappeared from expectations after his market did not develop as strongly as hoped and, in a more aggressive play, outbid the field for a Nippon Professional Baseball star. Seiya Suzuki.
Faced with other needs up and down the roster, however, the Cubs went with relievers. There were many rumors about it Carlos Correabut Correa said Gordon Wittenmyer of NBC Sports Chicago last month that the Cubs never made an actual offer and that their purported interest amounted to little more than a “check-in” on his status. “They were more in that rebuilding process,” Correa told Wittenmyer. The Cubs finally signed Andrelton Simmons for a year and $4MM, pairing him with Jonathan Villar (one year, $6MM) in the infield.
Beyond Stroman’s three-year deal, which allows him to opt out after the 2023 season, the Cubs addressed their pitching staff claiming Wade Miley off waivers from the salary-cutting Reds and signing Drew Smyly to a one-year, $4.25MM deal. Obstacles David Robertson, Michael Givens, Chris Martin and Daniel Norris were signed to one-year deals with the clear intention of flipping them at the deadline, and to the credit of president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer, the Cubs succeeded in three of those four efforts. (Norris struggled and was released last month.)
The only other notable moves by the Cubs were a one-year, $1.5MM deal with former Yankee prospect Clint Frazier and a two-year, $13MM deal with a veteran catcher. Yan Gomes, the latter spurring speculation about an offseason deal involving Contreras. Still, it’s mid-August and Contreras is still in Chicago, likely to the team a compensatory draft pick in the 75 to 80 range after he declines a qualifying offer and signs elsewhere. Frazier, meanwhile, went unclaimed on waivers back in June.
Unless Ricketts’ use of “highly active again” is a reference to several years ago, when the Cubs routinely flexed their big-market muscle, it’s a bit misleading. The Cubs took a quantity-over-quality approach to the market last year, and even their big-ticket items, Stroman and Suzuki, were value plays to a degree — Stroman because of the unexpectedly short-term nature of his deal and Suzuki because the price for a potentially oldest, high-level right fielder was weighted. of the inherent uncertainty attached to all NPB/KBO stars who have yet to face MLB opposition.
Once again there has been speculation about the Cubs diving headfirst into the market this offseason and signing one of the top free agent shortstops available: Correa, Trea Turner, Xander Bogaerts or Dansby Swanson. The last time the Cubs spent anywhere near that level was when they blacked out the post-trade Yu Darvish for $126MM, though, and it would be more accurate to say they haven’t really gone to that level for a free agent since the unlucky one. Jason Heyward signature
Obviously, no team will be built primarily through free agency. History will tell us that efforts to do so are generally a fool’s errand. But the Cubs also don’t have much in the way of locked-in, long-term core pieces under club control. There was no indication they made any serious efforts to extend Contreras, who will apparently sign elsewhere this winter. That goes away Nice Hoerner, Christopher Morel, Justin Steele, Keegan Thompson and (if he holds out) Suzuki as the closest things to similar long-term options on the roster. Happ will be a free agent after the 2023 season. Nick Madrigal has struggled mightily since returning from last year’s season-ending hamstring. Much of the remaining roster consists of travelers already in their 30s (eg Patrick Wisdom, Rafael Ortega, Adrian Sampson, Mark Leiter Jr.).
Hoyer, by all accounts, did well at the 2021 trade deadline by working to move short-term rentals that everyone expected to move. Outfielder Pete Crow-Armstrong, in particular, was a nice draw from the Mets organization and now ranks prominently among the top 50 prospects in the sport at Baseball America and at FanGraphs. The attrition rate among prospects is enormous, though, and the Cubs don’t have the type of vibrant farm system that gives them too many opportunities to miss. The system is also thin on high-end pitching prospects, which is problematic — especially when considering the organization’s overall struggles to develop pitchers; in the past decade, the only pitchers drafted by the Cubs with at least 1 WAR in the majors are Zack Godley (1.4), Dylan Stop it (7.4), Steele (1.9) and Thompson (2.5). Steele and Thompson are the only ones to find success wearing a Cubs uniform.
None of this means that the Cubs are in any way doomed. The front office and player development staff have rotated, by varying measures, following Hoyer’s ascension to head of baseball operations. The farm system is definitely better than when the Cubs started this rebuild. Hoyer and his staff deserve credit for the prospects swung at the ’21 trade deadline, and the recent decision to deal Scott Effross with another five years of club control remaining netted them a pitcher (Hayden Wesneski) who is arguably the organization’s top arm right now. .
Ownership’s talk of “progress” and being “very active,” however, is no doubt an effort to drum up fan interest for the 2023 season, but with so much work still to be done, it’s hard to imagine the Cubs turning things around and competing as . as early as next season. Even if they were to add a marquee shortstop this winter, they would likely do so while saying goodbye to one of the game’s better catchers, making a theoretical new addition closer to a balanced proposition than it would initially appear. look (from an overall team value perspective).
If anything, the biggest factor in the Cubs’ “progress” seems to be just the passage of time. They are one year closer to being out from under Heyward’s contract and shedding smaller but unpleasant contract commitments (eg. David Boat, the money being paid to the priests under the Darvish business). When the 2023-24 offseason rolls around, the Cubs will be down to $50MM in guaranteed money on the books next season — or just $29MM if Stroman opts out. That 2024 season seems like a more realistic goal for a truly competitive roster.