Chicago Cubs fans were supposed to get their first look at the post-Willson Contreras era on Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field.
Contreras got a big farewell on July 26, receiving several standing ovations and hugs on what was supposed to be his last day at Wrigley as a Cub.
Last year, most thought that at least one of the “Big Three” — Javier Baez, Kris Bryant or Anthony Rizzo — would stick around. Hoyer dealt all three. And on Tuesday, Hoyer opted to stay with his soon-to-be free agent after not getting the kind of return he hoped for.
That sparked hope that the Cubs might re-sign Contreras, though Hoyer didn’t say anything to indicate he intended to keep the veteran wide receiver.
Now Contreras will play string on a Cubs team that has finally conceded the obvious: that it’s undergoing a rebuild and looking at players through the lens of where they fit in 2023 and beyond. Christopher Morel, for example, was inserted at shortstop Friday for the second time.
“We’ll move the guys, see what we’ve got,” manager David Ross said before a game against the Miami Marlins.
Ross admitted the Cubs “would think about how we’re going to win in the future, what those pieces might look like, and paint that picture or put that puzzle piece together as best they could, see where the holes might be.” But once the games start, “he’s going to run the game to win the game.”
The Cubs entered Friday with a 41-63 record and a five-game losing streak. But they have seen some good pitching in the past two weeks, posting a 2.63 ERA in his last 15 games, the lowest in the majors over that span.
It’s no surprise the Cubs are at this juncture in August, despite Hoyer’s repeated efforts to avoid having the “rebuild” tag attached to this stick. When Hoyer held a media conference call after the trade deadline passed, a Marquee Sports Network reporter apologized to Hoyer for calling it a rebuild.
“Everyone is going to pay you to say that,” Hoyer joked.
While they haven’t uttered the word yet, the Cubs’ actions speak for themselves.
So, with development the focus of the past two months, what’s the future for outfielder Jason Heyward, who has one year left at $24.5 million? Heyward has been on the disabled list with right knee inflammation since June 27.
“We’ll adjust that when he recovers,” Ross said.
There is no timetable for the return of Heyward or Kyle Hendricks, who has been out since July 6 with a right shoulder strain. Asked if there was a chance Heyward and/or Hendricks might not return in 2022, Ross said: “I hope not, to be honest. I know these guys work really hard and take pride in publishing, being out there with the guys. … The body is going to let them do what the body is going to let them do.”
Hoyer and general manager Carter Hawkins have their work cut out for them in the offseason, but until then they have to figure out which players fit where.
Nico Hoerner has performed well at short, but his throwing error Thursday at St. Louis was another reason to wonder if he would be better suited at second base. Can Morel be an everyday shortstop, and is Zach McInstry, acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers for Chris MartinReady to play Ben Zobrist’s old role as a super utility?
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Ten years ago, the Cubs were going through the same thing in the first year of rebuilding. After the trade deadline, they went 18-42 en route to 101 losses. Highly touted prospects like Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters got their chance and proved they weren’t part of the future. The only players from that 2012 team who made the 2016 championship team happened to be Rizzo and Travis Wood.
How many of the current Cubs will make the next championship team?
“The whole point of this is to win championships,” Hoyer said in discussing the second year of the prospect asset sale.
Hoyer pointed to the trade deadline moves in the original rebuild that attracted high-profile prospects like Addison Russell, unannounced prospects like Hendricksand fighters, young players like Jake Arrieta.
“Sometimes it’s the high-profile guys that help you out,” Hoyer said. “And sometimes you realize when you take a lot of shots on goal and you bring a lot of young players into the system and you have good player development, those guys exceed your expectations.”
Hoyer is taking his shots and absorbing some of the ones left scratching their heads at the curious decision to stick with Contreras rather than receive anything of value in return. Could it be that we all overvalued Contreras, or did the Cubs misjudge the market?
It’s something to ponder as Hoyer, Hawkins and Ross hold auditions for the “next big Cubs team.”