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Why Jed can't call it a rebuild
There are a few reasons. None of them very good.
It is truly very weird that Jed Hoyer refuses to use the rebuild when he is clearly trying to rebuild the Cubs’ roster. Maybe “rebuild” means something different at Wesleyan than it does at other institutes of higher learning, but whatever the case, quibbling over semantics while the team you were hired to do president things for is embarrassingly bad is not a great look.
Jed clearly doesn’t want any comparisons to the most successful rebuild in franchise history. He tagged along with his old pal Theo Epstein and helped turn a very bad team into champions of the world in just five years.
He either doesn’t want to be pinned to a specific timeline, or, he’s bristling about the early part of that rebuild when Theo was signing Edwin Jackson, trading future batting champion DJ LeMahieu to the Rockies for a lot of bad, and drafting Albert Almora in the first round over Max Fried, Lucas Giolito, Corey Seager1, Marcus Stroman, etc.
Jed has some advantages that he and Theo didn’t enjoy in their first year. Jed inherited some actual good big league players that he could re-sign or trade. Back in the 2011 offseason and 2012 season all the Cubs had were Ryan Dempster, Alfonso Soriano, Andrew Cashner, the late, great Luis Valbuena, Jeff Samardzija, Paul Maholm and Matt Garza. They also had Starlin Castro who they kept longer than all the other guys, though they nearly dumped him at the 2015 trade deadline. They did bench Starlin, then turned him into a second baseman and he went on a tear the rest of the way.
Dempster became Kyle Hendricks (but only because he was trying to force a trade to the Dodgers—who didn’t want him—and used his 10-5 rights to block a deal for Randall Delgado with the Barves “They don’t did a trade.”) Soriano became Corey Black (so, nothing), Cashner was traded for some dude named Anthony Rizzo, Valbuena was traded for Dexter Fowler, Samardzija brought back Addison Russell, Maholm was dealt for Jaye Chapman and Aroyds Vizcaino (the Cubs eventually sent Vizcaino back to the Barves for Tommy LaStella) and Garza was traded for the cornucopia of Carl Edwards Jr., Justin Grimm, Mike Olt! and Neil Ramirez.
There are a fair amount of key contributors to the 2016 World Series team in that bunch.
Then, a year later they traded the 2013 version of Maholm, Scott Feldman, to the Orioles and got Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop. That one worked out pretty well, right?
This time around the Cubs had much better players that they chose to trade. Yu Darvish, Kris Bryant, Craig Kimbrel, Rizzo, and Javier Baez are all better than anybody they had to trade in 2011-2012. Then you throw in guys like Andrew Chafin, Ryan Tepera and even Joc Pederson, etc. So Jed should have a leg up this time around.
Some will argue that teams value prospects more than they did even 10 years ago, which could cut into the “haul.” But the Cubs also have the advantages of things they were building at the same time as they were restocking their roster. They have their fancy Arizona boondoggle of a spring training facility named after a company that makes toilet flappers. They have their own facility in the Dominican. They paid some nerds to make them a fancy spreadsheet/CRM called “Ivy” where they just put a few names in and poof out comes all kinds of brilliant, previously unearthed scouting information. They have their vaunted pitch lab with its fancy cameras and such, and the much less vaunted hit lab—which I think is a tee with a Polaroid camera taped to it.
One big thing they are behind in is that for all the crap we gave our old pal Jim Hendry, he at least left a few guys in the minors who were worth a damn. Javy Baez, Willson Contreras and LeMahieu to name three.
That’s not so much the case for the farm system Jed “inherited” when Theo put on the proverbial gorilla suit and bolted. I put “inherited” in quotes because as the general manager that shit’s as much his fault and anybody else’s. As Jon Greenberg pointed out on the podcast last week, other than some top of the first round hits on college hitters (Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ) the Cubs drafted really poorly under Theo.
Of the trades Jed made last year, a lot of those prospects immediately went into the Cubs’ top 20 rankings because other than Brennen Davis there just wasn’t much in their way.
There’s a pretty safe bet as to why Jed doesn’t want us to call this a rebuild. When Theo and he took over, Theo was happy to talk about what a mess everything was and how hard it was going to be to turn it around. He did it because a) it was true, but also because b) it bought him more time. Nobody expected the 2012 Cubs to be good (and man, they weren’t) and even by the time we got to 2014 expectations were really low, but by mid-season that team was actually fun to watch.
Jed can’t sell us on what a big mess this is because he was at least partially responsible for the mess. That’s why he doesn’t want to call it a rebuild, because on his watch a team that made the playoffs in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2020 and was built around a young core is suddenly so bad that it all has to be torn down?
One thing that has made his life a little easier is that the guys he traded last year, particularly the three guys who will be lifetime fan favorites for many, many, many Cubs fans, have played so poorly for their new teams that it’s not being shoved back in his face on a daily basis.
Anthony Rizzo seemed pretty washed when the Cubs traded him to the Yankees last year.
He was really bad in the pandemic season (but most of them were) and then wasn’t much better before the trade deadline last year, slashing just .248/.346/.446. He actually slashed more poorly for the Yankees (.249/.340/.428) but it earned him a two-year contract.
This year his decline has continued. He’s hitting just .213/.325/.473, with 11 homers, but even that’s propped up by the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium. Four of his 11 homers would literally not have been homers in any other park, and overall he’s hitting .262/.388/.607 at home and a woeful .165/.258/.341 everywhere else.
Kris Bryant was the guy I really thought the Cubs should gird up their payroll loins and keep. He was their most talented player, still only 30 years old and his positional versatility meant that no matter which of the prospects actually panned out you’d be able to find a spot for Kris that he could play well.
After playing OK during the regular season for the Giants after his trade and then really well in the playoffs, Kris took the bag and signed a big deal to waste the rest of his career in Denver.
They decided he was a left fielder and just 15 games into the season he dove for a ball (and we always held our breath whenever he hit the ground as a Cub) and he hurt his back, went on the IL, came back, played a game and a half and he’s back on the IL. He’ll hit because he’s good and everybody hits in Colorado, but right now he’s just a big pile of cash sitting in the trainer’s room, and frankly, the Rockies should brace themselves for the fact he’ll do that for parts of every year they have him until he finally forces a trade to a real team.
And then, there’s the guy that it made the most sense to re-sign. If we are to believe Jed and Javy Baez, they almost signed Javy to a long term deal right before the pandemic shutdown in 2020. Why it didn’t happen after the shutdown (“Biblical losses.” — Tom Ricketts) is anybody’s guess. Because we all miss Javy doing Javy things at short and on the bases. What we don’t miss as much is Javy swinging from his ass at home plate at everything.
And, the Tigers are getting the full Javy experience right now.
.194/.237/.307. Holy shit. Baaaaad.
It’s a terrible park for him, and he was the most likely of the three to try to show he was worth the big contract right away and spiral himself into a slump. And even last year he struggled for much of the first half with the Cubs, only to come alive during the Mets’ ill-fated playoff run. He hit .299/.371/.515 for the Mets after hitting .248/.292/.484 for the Cubs.
He’s also the youngest of the three, and he’s Javy, so at some point he’ll figure it out. But he’ll still be in Detroit.
So, the Cubs aren’t missing much, right? Sure, Frank Schwindel is a mannequin at first and had to get hot in recent weeks to get his OPS up to a mediocre .667. Nico Hoerner’s doing a nice job at short, but he’s a second baseman…and a good one. And, we love Pee Whiz because he’s a solid all-around player but he has an alarming fatal flaw of striking out A LOT, even by Cubs’ standards, which will prevent him from ever being a good player on a contending team.
Another reason Jed wants to distance himself from the rebuilding talk is that he clearly told his two big free agent signings, Marcus Stroman and Seiya Suzuki that they weren’t signing on for a lengthy run of non-contention. Though Stroman might not have been all too optimistic, considering he only signed for two years with an option.
The Cubs current roster is more interesting than it had been earlier in the season. Injuries to guys we just don’t want to have to watch anymore like Jason Heyward and David Bote and to a little guy I’m already tired of (Nick Madrigal) have meant the Cubs are forced to give at bats to actual prospects like Christopher Morel and Nelson Velazaquez. But it’s hard to have optimism that when the unproductive veterans come back that they won’t go right back into the lineup. Whatever it takes to cause us all to lose interest again, I guess.
It will be interesting to see who the Cubs will trade at the deadline this year. Wade Miley and Smyly are obvious candidates, but both of them are hurt now.
Will they trade Ian Happ? If his history is any indication, the hot start he’s off to won’t last, so they should trade him today. Besides, if they trade him (and he should have value as a switch hitter who can play left and center and can stand near second base and pretend) it’ll just give us more chances to watch Clint Frazier badly miss a flyball and then show no interest in actually chasing after it.
Because here’s the thing, Jed. If your team’s going to be bad (and it is), it’s more fun if it’s young and bad than if it’s old and bad.
And the real truth is that if you’re not rebuilding this roster then you are just really, really bad at your job, because this team is a total mess. Because that truth is so obvious Cubs fans will probably start wearing it on one of those dumb t-shirts.
“Too tall to play shortstop.” - Theo