The work on the Cubs’ most daunting winter in decades already has begun for Jed Hoyer in his new role as Cubs team president.
But the results? That might take a while, Theo Epstein’s successor admitted Monday during his first media conference in his role.
“This offseason there is a lot of uncertainty,” Hoyer said. “I think it’s probably going to move a little bit slower than some offseasons. So I think we may try to get a sense of the landscape before we move forward.”
“Slower than some” is saying a lot considering the Cubs did next to nothing with the roster last winter after promising every player on the big-league roster was in play for possible offseason moves and considering the glacial pace of player markets industry-wide two of the last three winters.
This time around, the new guy takes over during the height of a pandemic, during what the team can only hope is the trough of its financial losses and during a roster crisis it saw coming for at least two years — as four members of its championship hitting core are one season from free agency, after consecutive seasons exceeding MLB’s luxury-tax payroll threshold.
The most decorated and expensive of the four — former MVP Kris Bryant — already has been rumored to be a non-tender candidate at the Dec. 2 deadline.
Talk about desperate times and desperate measures.
One of the first questions to Hoyer Monday specifically addressed the likelihood that Bryant would be on next season’s Opening Day roster.
“Without specifying Kris, we have a lot of great players on this roster. … I certainly wouldn’t speculate about the future of any one guy at this point,” Hoyer said.
If Hoyer plans to get a sense of the landscape before making significant moves, that would seem to mean Bryant’s at least safe from the most extreme scenario involving next week’s tender date.
But it’s clear that this year’s mandate to cut payroll amid revenue losses is urgent enough that Hoyer isn’t likely to be afforded the luxury of waiting until the scheduled season to make moves — as the brass shifted its focus in 2020 before the pandemic wiped out the trade-option and tanked player markets.
Hoyer said he’s working with a payroll “range” for now that might shift some with developments and projections during the winter — good or bad — related to the direction of the virus, vaccine news and attendance projections. That was as much as he would say about payroll expectations.
As for what that means on Dec. 2 — and whether Hoyer is willing to rule out non-tendering a “significant” player?
“At this point I’m not going to comment on that, just like I’m not going to comment on payroll stuff,” he said.
Take that any way you want. Maybe not Bryant? Maybe Kyle Schwarber (also among the four pending free agents)?
The reality is we probably will only get a crack-of-light glimpse of what the rest of the winter might bring for the Cubs roster and 2021 chance to compete when next week’s deadline passes.
Hoyer promises to keep one eye on the present and one eye on the future as he makes moves this winter — with a lean toward the future, he said, “given the service-time realities [of the core].”
He also said the goal is to win the division title in 2021, an achievement that seems likely to fall disproportionately on the shoulders of frontline starters Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks — assuming both are still around by April.
But a year after engaging star shortstop Javy Báez in extension talks that continued into spring training, Hoyer did not sound especially promising about the likelihood of such talks anytime soon as Báez approaches his final winter before free agency — or pending free agent Anthony Rizzo for that matter.
“As far as extension talks, we have none ongoing right now, but certainly we have players on this roster that we’d love to have here for a long time,” Hoyer said. “So at some time in the future I think we’ll probably pick those up. But right now there’s nothing ongoing.”
That’s where the uncertainty of MLB’s landscape — and especially the Cubs’ — comes back into play for a winter that might yet be measured in fits and starts. Where fits can eventually be found.
“Certainly we’re not going to wait forever,” Hoyer said, “but I do think waiting a little bit and trying to figure out exactly what happens this winter makes a lot of sense.”