Press Box Wag

Did a bus just run over Jed Hoyer and the Cubs' offseason?


Positioned midway between the two biggest turkey-feasting holidays of the year, baseball’s Winter Meetings are timed perfectly as a reminder that there’s never enough leftover bird to bridge the gap.

That’s why it’s always a good idea for the true bird lovers of the season to get a second turkey after Thanksgiving, a tradition embraced and passed down in these parts for at least as long as the Cubs have embraced their own tradition of tanking when the going gets tough.

That makes this the double-bird period on the Gregorian calendar — with nobody celebrating it on the baseball calendar quite like the Cubs are this year.

No? Did you see the double birds on a bat Willson Contreras delivered to the Cubs by signing a five-year, $87.5 million deal with the Cardinals to replace Yadier Molina — an apt, even poetic, response to Cubs gestures in his direction for the past year-plus.

It’s in this spirit, as we wait to find out if the Cubs get Carlos Correa, get Dansby Swanson or get hosed on both, that we present a special Double Birds Edition of the Press Box Wag.

Did somebody say Correa?

The Cubs might yet get one of their big-ticket shortstop targets and pull off a successful winter by just about anyone’s definition. However, if they don’t get one of the last two in that free agent pool, minor-leaguer Ben DeLuzio, the upside bet on Cody Bellinger and even signing $68 million Jameson Taillon ain’t gonna cut it. Especially if the explanations involve more empty rhetoric about “intelligent spending.”

Without one of the big boys, it will be a colossal, utter failure of a winter for team president Jed Hoyer’s Cubs. And after all those promises to be aggressive in free agency, that’s a feast of double birds to fans who have paid top dollar for the privilege of baseball famine the last two years during the second Ricketts tank job in a decade.

(UPDATE: Within hours of this column posting, Correa agreed to a 13-year, $350 million deal with the Giants.)

Did we mention Contreras?

Of all the gin joints in all the towns … St. Louis? Really?

“I know for certain that I made the best decision here. Everything just feels absolutely right,” the now-former Cubs All-Star catcher said upon meeting Cardinals media after signing that big deal.

Now before anyone goes all meathead-moron on Contreras for allegedly sticking it to the Cubs with that decision, consider how bad the World Series-winning catcher said he wanted to stay, the crickets he heard the last four-plus years when it came to extension offers, the willingness of the Cubs to take him to a midseason arbitration hearing in his final year (until an 11th-hour midpoint agreement) and the two-plus years of trade chatter they engaged in, culminating in keeping him at this year’s trade deadline and putting him through a pair of tearful double-goodbyes with Wrigley Field fans.

That’s as double-bird as it gets.

And from where the PBW sits, you don’t have to root for the new team to root for the player.

Speaking of ex-Cubs

It’s been more than a month now, but Kyle Schwarber continues to feast on double birds (not to mention double All-Star appearances) since getting non-tendered by the Cubs two winters ago when they ran scared from “biblical” short-term pandemic losses and started slashing payroll.

His six home runs helped power the upstart Phillies to within two games of his second World Series championship — after a league-leading 46 during the regular season.

For those scoring at home, that’s nine home runs for Schwarber in 28 postseason games for two teams (also Boston) since the Cubs’ worst move during the two-year roster purge — after hitting six in 24 postseason games for the Cubs.

And since then, the big-spending Phillies actually added their own big-ticket shortstop (Trea Turner), along with $72 million pitcher Taijuan Walker to their pennant-winning roster.

RELATED: Why Cubs might live to regret Kyle Schwarber departure most

Hashtag Intelligent Spending

While it’s generally true in baseball that there’s no such thing as a bad one-year contract, it’s still a $17.5 million wager the Cubs have placed on former Rookie of the Year and 2019 MVP Bellinger that he rediscovers his All-Star production after a three-year tailspin that included a .203 average, .648 OPS and 1.2 total bWAR in 295 games — enough that the Dodgers released Bellinger rather than pay him similarly through arbitration.

The Dodgers, meanwhile, backfilled in part with another former All-Star outfielder who had been released by a team he’d helped win a recent championship, getting Jason Heyward on a minor-league deal and invitation to big-league camp.

Heyward over those same past three seasons hit .224 with a .667 OPS and 1.2 total bWAR in 202 games.

But that’s not even the double-bird part.

It’s this: By releasing Heyward with a year left on his contract, the Cubs are paying roughly $40 million for both players in 2023 — the Dodgers on the hook for only the major-league minimum if Heyward makes the club.

Season of Giving

Shout out to the White Sox across town for winning baseball’s annual philanthropic award, named for former commissioner Bud Selig.

The Cubs also were among of five finalists for the award — which raised the obvious question: Does tanking qualify as philanthropy for this award?

One press box wag actually asked some Cubs people that question. (Still waiting for the answer.)

Was that a speed bump?

The sense of go-big-or-go-home for a Cubs front office that opened the offseason with a massive list of roster deficiencies has been cultivated and amplified by ownership hatchet man Crane Kenney.

The business ops prez reiterated Friday on the team’s flagship radio station what he said over the same airwaves during the season about Hoyer having “a lot of money to spend this year,” as opposed to last year, when “he didn’t spend all the money he had last year because he didn’t see transactions that made sense to him.”

Double birds? Maybe.

As much as anything it sounded a lot like ownership/business ops throwing baseball ops under the bus after taking a lot of public heat in the two years since initiating that financially-driven roster teardown. Consider that only three top-tier free agents remained unsigned (also starter Carlos Rodón) when Kenney spoke Friday on 670 The Score, that Kenney called the Cubs’ offseason in its “third inning” and then alluded to possible trades in contradiction to Hoyer’s public expectation to make his significant acquisitions via free agency.

And then this: “There’s no reason to think we wouldn’t be a playoff team this year.”

Thump, thump.

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