The Chicago Cubs are playing rope in the 2022 season, just as they were this time last year after selling their stars.
It’s something fans are getting used to again after six straight years of seeing contending teams and something most fans are hoping will happen again next August.
So what’s the plan?
No one but Cubs president Tom Ricketts and team president Jed Hoyer really know, and neither is providing details.
But as the Cubs prepared to be in the national spotlight Thursday at the Field of Dreams game against the Cincinnati Reds in Dyersville, Iowa, Ricketts broke his silence on rebuilding.
“I would be the first to acknowledge that this is not the kind of baseball that Chicago Cubs fans deserve,” Ricketts said in a statement to the Tribune. “Our decision last year to walk away from the Cubs players who brought us a World Series title was a tough one, but we have a plan to get back into championship contention by building the next great Cubs team around a young core of players augmented by free agent signings. And we’re making progress.”
Ricketts hasn’t made himself available to reporters this season, unlike in years past, so it’s hard to pinpoint what “progress” he was referring to in his statement, parts of which first appeared on ESPN.com.
The Cubs entered Thursday with a 45-65 record and are on track for 96 losses. They lost 91 games in 2021 and have a winning percentage of .392 (65-101) as of the 2021 trade deadline.
But Ricketts pointed to David Ross’ management and the number of close games the Cubs have been in to suggest they are competitive.
“While our record is the ultimate judge of success, I think Rossy has done a great job managing and inspiring the team to play hard throughout the season,” he said. “We’ve been involved in 34 one-run games, tied for fourth in the (National League), and 58 games decided by two runs or fewer, tied for fifth in the majors.
“I like the fight, but we have to do better because winning baseball is the expectation.”
rickets said Hoyer’s movements in the last year they have put the Cubs in a “position of strength both in players and financial currency,” adding that they “plan to be very active again” in free agency.
At the end of last season, Hoyer said the Cubs would spend money on free agents “wisely,” and Ricketts emailed fans saying the team would spend money “considerately.” The Cubs spent on two great free agents, but whether the money was spent wisely is up for debate.
Marcus Stroman, Hoyer’s biggest free-agent signing, has pitched well when healthy but hasn’t pitched enough to justify his three-year, $71 million deal. Stroman can also opt out after next season, so he could be gone by the time the Cubs’ rebuild takes a turn.
Seiya Suzuki, the japanese star signed an affordable five-year, $85 million contract, he got off to a strong start in April but enters the Field of Dreams game hitting .225 with a .636 OPS in his previous 53 games since April 28.
Hoyer pointed to Suzuki and Ian Happ as reasons why there are no place for Jason Heyward next season, a move most fans approved of after seeing Heyward struggle most of his career with the Cubs.
Still, Suzuki must show big improvement over the next two seasons to avoid being in the same pot as Heyward in the fourth year of his contract, at which point he’ll earn $19 million.
Spring training deals for veteran infielders hoping to trade chips fell through. Jonathan Villar and Andrelton Simmons were released after signing one-year contracts. Waiver claims that Wade Miley has pitched just 19 innings while rehabbing for most of the season. Drew Smyly, who was scheduled to start Thursday, looked good when he was healthy but is a starter at the back of the rotation with a $4.25 million mutual option for next year.
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With Kyle Hendricks’ future up in the air after 2023, Keegan Thompson and Justin Steele are the only current starters likely to break into the 2024 rotation. But Ricketts said Hoyer’s belief that the Cubs have “turned the corner with our launcher infrastructure” is reason to believe in the team’s future. Thompson and Steele have made significant progress, but the Cubs need to surround them with more young talent.
“We entered the season with a group of pitchers that, if healthy, would have kept us more competitive this season,” Ricketts said. “We are starting to see results with our starting pitching rotation and prospects showing up in the system and performing well, helping the team progress to a better than .500 record since the All-Star break. A big part of the credit goes to Jed and his team for building a strong pitcher development program and culture.”
Nico Hoerner and Christopher Morel have become the new faces of the rebuild, and both seem to be around for a long time. The Cubs are deciding which other young players deserve a shot, including second baseman Nick Madrigal and 27-year-old Franmil Reyes. claimed in resignations of the Cleveland Guardians this week.
But there are no Kris Bryants, Kyle Schwarbers or Javier Baezes emerging from the system to fuel the rebuild, and the likelihood of the Cubs bringing in a Jon Lester-type free agent seems like a long shot. After a loss to the New York Mets, Ross said they were playing a “first-place team with a $300 million payroll”, as if the Cubs were a small-market team that couldn’t keep up with the Joneses.
The Cubs have given no indication they plan to re-sign wide receiver Willson Contreras, whom Hoyer chose to hold at the trade deadline and he’ll lose by a draft pick if he gets a qualifying offer and signs elsewhere. Ricketts did not mention Contreras.
Ricketts said “suffice it to say we plan to make championship history again.”
When that will be is anyone’s guess.