It happened about an hour before MLB’s trade deadline on Friday afternoon. Kyle hendricks he walked into the outfield on the visitors’ side of Nationals Park to play ball like he always does the day before he started. When he returned to the Chicago Cubs clubhouse, the team he helped lead to the 2016 World Series title was unrecognizable.
He had been gutted.
“I didn’t know the full scope until I got back,” Hendricks said over the weekend. “It’s definitely been really difficult. It still is. It’s going to take a while to process. It’s a lot different around here without those guys. It was a crazy 24 hours. It’s probably going to take me a while to process everything. It’s going to take a while.”
Hendricks and the few remaining remnants of a team that ended the franchise’s 108-year title drought are starting over. But does that mean the Cubs are back in full rebuild mode, with years of mediocrity in front of them? Or does the president of baseball operations, Jed Hoyer, have a faster plan?
While his actions on the trade deadline seem to put the above strategy into play, he says it’s actually the opposite: The Cubs’ dramatic July deconstruction will hasten their return to glory.
Understanding the future of the team begins with understanding what led to the delivery of four-star players. They were years of star making.
“Don’t let a crisis go to waste”
A sequence of events, some sparked by the Cubs themselves and others at the price of doing it almost every year, left Hoyer with few options. That included:
• The Cubs’ inability to sign any of its main players, plus Hendricks, with long-term deals. It’s a sore spot for both Hoyer and former executive Theo Epstein. They they think they made fair offers , but they were rejected at all times.
“That will probably be my biggest source of frustration at this time,” Hoyer said on Chicago radio Monday morning.
• Due to the nature of the Cubs rebuilding, many key players were on the same umpiring clock. Kris bryant, Javier Baez and others started to get expensive at the same time, and they were all on the verge of free agency.
• The Cubs never produced the next wave of talent behind their 2016 champions, especially on the mound, meaning the team’s continued success depended on the same group.
They traded in the best young talent they had to plug holes while trying to maintain a winning window. Players who won a championship, meanwhile, never found that level again, and it was only magnified by the lack of reinforcements in the lineup and rotation.
• The organization stopped spending. After what Yu darvish arrived in Chicago on a six-year contract before the 2018 season, the only significant offseason signing was Craig kimbrel three-year, $ 43 million and that happened only after Ben Zobrist’s unpaid leave released some of the payroll. Subsequently, the Cubs exited Darvish by trade, and the remaining $ 59 million on his $ 126 million contract, just as he was pitching the best he could. During the pandemic, homeowners declared they were suffering “biblical losses” and subtracted items from a 2020 playoff team rather than increased them.
• Ultimately, the team prepared for this deadline position by compiling a roster full of upcoming free agents. Darvish was replaced by Zach Davies, who is at the end of his six-year arc of control of the team. Joc Pederson signed a one-year contract, as did Trevor Williams and Jake arrieta. When the team pulled out of the race, Hoyer was left with only two options: make the moves he made last week or risk half the squad leaving at the end of the season with nothing to show for it.
“Don’t let a crisis go to waste,” Hoyer said after Friday’s deadline. “There is no reason to stay in the middle of the effort.”
With all of that in mind, Hoyer entered the deadline knowing that committing to trade one main player meant committing to the ability to trade them all. I just needed to hear the correct reward for Bryant, Baez, Anthony Rizzo and Craig Kimbrel.
“With every trade, we would target players that we really liked and we wouldn’t budge from that position,” he said. “Was it emotionally difficult? Yes. Do I think it was absolutely the right thing to do for the organization? I think so.”
How does this compare to the last rebuild?
In late 2011, Hoyer and his former boss, Epstein, chose a direction for the franchise that ultimately led to a World Series title. In part, due to changes to the collective bargaining agreement, the couple decided the way forward was a full talent sweep and set out to build their team from scratch, even if it would take bottoming out to get there.
While Friday’s moves look like the beginning of a similar plan, Hoyer has committed to nothing more than tapping into a full roster of free agents.
“In fact, I think we’ve sped things up a lot in the last few days,” Hoyer said. “We’ll sit down and figure out how we’re going to build the next great Cubs team. I don’t care if it looks like you’re competing or that you finish second. I worry about trying to win championships.”
Still, it’s jarring to see such a talented group of players disappear within 24 hours. Especially in contrast to what another team in the same division with a similar record, the St. Louis Cardinals, did, or did not, by the deadline. Despite not living up to the expectations set when they acquired Nolan Arenado this past winter, St. Louis resisted the temptation to subtract from its roster and rack up prospects. In fact, the Cardinals added a bit more by getting veteran starters instead. JA Happ Y Jon lester.
“Overall, we still want to compete,” said president of baseball operations John Mozeliak. “Hopefully we can continue that career and make a bit of noise, still in the Central Division … We still believe in this team, but we also believe in where we are going next year, so that was fundamental in our decision making.” .
The Cardinals also have little hope of catching up with the Milwaukee Brewers this season, but Mozeliak’s strategy is to keep moving forward as the Cubs reboot.
“Obviously a very different approach, but they were in a place where they had a lot of expiring contracts,” Mozeliak said. “You have a team that has turned the page now to 2022 and there are some who are still worried about 2021.”
Now the question is when will the Cubs reintroduce a team that can compete with those Cardinals and Brewers at the top of the division again.
“The goal is how we build the next great Cubs team, not how we build the next OK Cubs team,” Hoyer said. “I don’t know what we are going to do yet, so no one knows what we are going to do yet.
“The obvious thing here is to compare things to what we did before.”
But Hoyer insists they won’t repeat 2012. They infused an improved farm system with 11 new faces over the past few weeks, plus they have four more from the Darvish trade.
Will they sign one of the many shortstop free agents available this offseason to speed up the process? Will some of the prospects they just acquired trade for major league talent? Or perhaps the longer approach is necessary again. The plan has not yet been drawn up.
“That path could mean letting the garden grow for a long time because we need to let those prospects mature,” Hoyer said. “And sometimes it can mean speeding it up through free agency.”
There are already some pieces in place. Nick Madrigal, acquired by trading Craig Kimbrel to the White Sox, joins the 2018 first-round pick Nico Hoerner like cornerstones of the painting. The receptor Willson Contreras He said over the weekend that he would love to stay and Hendricks is signed through 2024. The Cubs will test some young pitchers over the next two months in hopes of building the rest of the rotation rather than buying one.
“We trust the people around us,” Hendricks said. “Whatever the plan, obviously they have a plan in place. We’re just going to rely on that.
“It is not clear where we are going, but I know it will all work out for the better in the end.”
When asked if there was an interesting trading story from the hectic weeks leading up to the deadline, Hoyer paused and advanced it.
“I don’t want to be on that side (subtracting) from the transaction,” he replied. “That’s what I would say the most. I have a lot of respect for the teams we dealt with. They were willing to do it. And that’s what you have to do.”