After a confusing trading period that saw the Cubs hold on to the catcher Willson Contreras and (unsurprisingly) outfielders Jan Happ, they are currently 15 games behind first place in the NL Central 19 games under .500 and 23rd place in the majors by a -74 runs difference. It’s a 67-win pace that puts them on course for an even worse result than 2021, when they went 71-91.
Despite the poor results and a farm system ranked 18th by ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel in its post-trade deadline update, Cubs owner Tom Ricketts said in a statement to the Chicago Tribune that the Cubs ” Making progress” on their “plan to return”. championship fight.”
As might be expected, Ricketts’ comments were vague and lacking in detail. He praised manager David Ross’ ability to make the squad “play hard,” lamented some pitching team injuries that have made the rotation less competitive than hoped, and cited the number of singles and two-run games, in which the Cubs have played, as a testament to how close his club is to the competition. Of course, Ricketts didn’t address the lack of pitching depth that made these rotational injuries so problematic (and necessitated the spate of year-long gaps in the first place), nor did he mention the 19 times the Cubs have lost by five or more runs in this one Season.
More broadly, Ricketts promised to be “very active again” in terms of the free agent market. There’s no denying that the Cubs, who signed a dozen players to the major leagues last winter, were actually “active” at freelance, but the vast majority of their signings have been small transactions that tipped the needle for hardly moved the organization. The Cubs signed opportunistically Markus Stroman to a deal that fell short after its market didn’t perform as well as hoped, and in a more aggressive game outbid the field for the Nippon Professional Baseball star Seiya Suzuki.
However, faced with other needs up and down the roster, the Cubs went with wildcards. There were many rumors about Carlo Correa, but Correa told NBC Sports Chicago’s Gordon Wittenmyer last month that the Cubs had never made an actual offer and that their alleged interest was little more than “checking” his status. “They were more in this rebuilding process,” Correa told Wittenmyer. The Cubs eventually signed Andrelton Simmons for a year and $4 million if you pair him with Jonathan Villar (one year, $6m) in the infield.
Beyond Stroman’s three-year contract allowing him to step out after the 2023 season, the Cubs turned to their pitching staff by claiming Wade Miley Waivers of Reds’ pay cuts and signing Drew Smyly to a one-year, $4.25 million contract. helper David Robertson, Mychal Givens, Chris Martin and Daniel Norris One-year contracts were signed with the clear intention of turning them over by deadline, and to the credit of baseball operations president Jed Hoyer, the Cubs were successful in three of those four ventures. (Norris fought and was released last month.)
The Cubs’ only other truly notable moves were a one-year, $1.5 million deal with former Yankees prospect Clint Frazier and a two-year, $13 million deal with a veteran catcher Yan Gomes, the latter spurring speculation of an offseason deal involving Contreras. However, it’s mid-August and Contreras is still in Chicago and will likely earn the team an equalizing draft pick in the 75-80 range once he turns down a qualifying offer and signs elsewhere. Frazier, meanwhile, was not claimed for waivers in June.
Unless Rickett’s use of “very active again” is a reference to a time a few years ago when the Cubs were routinely flexing their muscles in the big market, it’s a bit misleading. The Cubs have taken a quantity-over-quality approach to the market over the past year, and even their big-ticket items, Stroman and Suzuki, have been value plays to some extent — Stroman because of the unexpectedly short-term nature of his deal and Suzuki , because the price of a high-end prime-aged right fielder has been weighed down by the inherent uncertainty that comes with any NPB/KBO star yet to face MLB opposition.
Speculation reigned that the Cubs would dive headfirst into this offseason’s market and sign one of the best free-agent shortstops: Correa, Trea Turner, Xander Bogaerts or Dansby Swanson. The last time the Cubs spent anywhere near that level was when they inked those traded since Yu Darwish for $126 million, and it would be more accurate to say they haven’t really gone to that level for a free agent since the tragedy Jason Heyward Signing.
Obviously, no team is built primarily by free hand. History will show us that efforts to do this are generally foolish. But the Cubs also don’t have much of a solid, long-term core under club control. There is no indication that they have made any serious effort to renew Contreras, who is likely to sign elsewhere this winter. This works out Nico Horner, Christopher Morel, Justin Steele, Keegan Thompson and (if he knows) Suzuki as the next things that resemble long-term options on the list. Happ will be a free agent after the 2023 season. Nick Madrigal has struggled immensely since returning from a hamstring rupture at the end of last season. Much of the remaining list consists of journeymen who are already in their thirties (eg Patrick wisdom, Raphael Ortega, Adrian Samson, Mark Leiter Jr.).
Hoyer appears to have done well on the 2021 trading deadline to move short-term rents that everyone expected would move. outfielder Pete Crow Armstrong, in particular, was a nice draw of the Mets organization and now ranks prominently among the sport’s top 50 prospects on Baseball America and on FanGraphs. However, the attrition rate among prospects is tremendous, and the Cubs don’t have the kind of busy farming system that gives them too many opportunities to miss. The system is also thin on high-end pitching prospects, which is problematic — especially considering the organization’s overall struggles to develop pitchers; In the past decade are the only pitchers drafted by the Cubs with at least a 1 WAR in the majors Zack Godley (1.4), Dylan stops (7.4), Steele (1.9) and Thompson (2.5). Steele and Thompson are the only ones to find success in the Cubs uniform.
None of this is to say that the Cubs are somehow doomed. After Hoyer’s rise to head of baseball operations, the front office and player development staff have changed to varying degrees. The farm system is undoubtedly better off than it was when the Cubs embarked on this rebuild. Hoyer and his staff deserve credit for the prospects unfolding at the close of 21, and the recent decision to put Scott Effross in charge of another five years of club control earned them a pitcher (Hayden Wesneski) who is now arguably the senior arm of the organization is .
However, the owner speech of “progressing” and “very active” is undoubtedly an attempt to build fan interest for the 2023 season, but with so much work still to be done it’s hard to imagine the Cubs getting things done turn around and compete as early as next season. Even if they added a marquee shortstop this winter, they’d likely do so while also saying goodbye to one of the game’s better catchers, making a theoretical signing closer to a break-even proposition than it first appears has view (from the overall team value perspective).
If anything, the biggest factor in the Cubs’ “progress” seems to be just the passage of time. They’re a year closer to stepping out of Heyward’s contract and making minor but awkward contractual commitments (eg David Bote, the money being paid to the Padres as part of the Darvish bargain). By the 2023-24 offseason, the Cubs will be down to $50 million in guaranteed money in the following season’s books — or just $29 million if Stroman signs off. This 2024 season seems like a more realistic goal for a truly competitive squad.