Hoerner gets trial run at SS rest of way over GG winner


CINCINNATI — The lack of transparency from Cubs officials over their team-building plan is starting to grow into a bigger story than their actual crime against fans of launching a second lengthy rebuild in a decade, thanks to a tone-deaf, nothing-to-see-here house organ of a TV network.

But that doesn’t mean the process isn’t bared for anyone to see when they look past all the trying-to-compete-now BS shoveled from some corners.

The latest signal through the noise came Wednesday with this gem from Cubs manager David Ross when asked about his intention to return Nico Hoerner to shortstop now that he’s back from an ankle injury, and to slide four-time Gold Glove shortstop Andrelton Simmons over to second base:

“Just because I think that gives us the best chance to win.”

Yeah, right. Not even close. Not if by winning he means today, this season — and that’s no knock on Hoerner.

But Hoerner a better shortstop than Simmons?

Ross: “That’s not what I said.”

What Ross did say was that the shoulder issue that kept Simmons sidelined until mid-May was not a factor in the decision.

“I said it gives us the best chance to win,” Ross said.

Maybe next year, if not the year after.

And that’s the point, a point the Cubs keep wanting to sweep under the rug, a point they’ve all but banned from their credibility-sapped airwaves.

The next 119 games are all about the next step this winter in a long climb back to the top for a team that abdicated its division throne 18 months ago with a sequence of payroll-slashing moves that have led to this murky, middling, non-competitive place.

Veterans in the clubhouse know it and whisper it among themselves — many knowing they’ll be playing to win again in a couple months when they’re traded into pennant races. Even younger players acknowledge it when answering questions about how they think they fit into Jed Hoyer’s “next great Cubs team.”

As former Cubs general manager Jim Hendry used to say, "You can't fool those guys in the clubhouse."

Which brings it back to Hoerner, who’s clearly a part of that organizational vision, and Simmons, a one-year rental who’s clearly not.

Add to that the fact that Nick Madrigal is also part of that vision and will get the lion's share of games at second once he returns from the IL (back), and the picture becomes clearer as the Cubs eye their plans after this year while taking as many looks as possible at their two young middle-infield hitters this year.

“There’s a real benefit from a guy that’s young and upcoming getting as many reps at short for us, and the versatility of Simmons,” Ross said.

Hoerner, a Gold Glove finalist at second in 2020, showed the first five or six weeks of this season that he’s a capable big-league shortstop as well — if not the Gold Glove-level defender that Simmons is.

And if Hoerner can prove it for the rest of the season, and stay healthy and productive, then the Cubs might have their shortstop for at least the interim it takes to graduate one of their hotshot A-ball shortstops to the majors.

And that eliminates all that talk — internal or otherwise — about any pursuit of long-term, big-ticket free agent shortstops such as Carlos Correa or Trea Turner.

Hoyer might have hinted at that much last week in a rare on-the-record response to such things when he shot down a loose “report” over the winter that the Cubs had pursued a long-term deal with Correa before he switched agents to Scott Boras.

Overall, the Cubs seem to believe they need to see what they have in several players for the rest of the season to know how close they might be at that point to competing again and how aggressive they might get during the offseason.

Specifically, they need to see Hoerner a lot more at short. And after some more manager-speak about how shifts often blur infield positions anyway, Ross got back to the bottom line on this best-chance-to-win-but-not-saying-that-means-today thing.

“Nico has proven he can play big-league shortstop pretty consistently already this season,” Ross said. “Let’s see what happens at the end of the year and assess there. It’s easy to say you can be a shortstop in the big leagues long-term, but you also have to do it, you have to prove it. Sixty games is a lot different than 162. That’s the big wait-and-see on the big-picture stuff.”

Probably worth noting here, by the way, that those shifts that blur the positions aren’t expected to be allowed by next season.

So they need to see what Hoerner can do over as close to 162 games as possible to know what they can count on moving forward?

“I think that’s a fair assessment,” Ross said.


Why didn’t you just say so?

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