If it walks like a rebuild, talks like a rebuild and kicks a fan base in the teeth like a rebuild, then it’s probably a rebuild.
No matter what Cubs president Jed Hoyer refuses to call it.
“I don’t know what the definition of a rebuild is,” Hoyer said after wiping out the Cubs championship core in a flurry of trade-deadline moves that included sending Anthony Rizzo and Javy Báez to the two New York teams and Kris Bryant to the Giants.
Stay in the game with the latest updates on your beloved Chicago sports teams! Sign up here for our All Access Daily newsletter.
Anybody who watched two of the past five World Series winners play over the weekend after purging their rosters of their championship cores knows.
After seven players made their Cubs debuts over the weekend, including two major-league debuts, two Chicago writers uttered versions of the same comment at different points of Sunday’s game alone: “This feels a lot like 2012.”
That’s, of course, exactly the narrative Hoyer is desperately trying to prevent, that somehow the Cubs are in a stripped-down, tanking, full-blown rebuild like they underwent when he and Theo Epstein took over operations before that 2012 season.
“It’s different now,” Hoyer said.
So then what exactly is this, if it’s not a rebuild?
It took four rough seasons under Epstein and Hoyer last time before the breakthrough 2015 winner. None of the annual selloffs during those seasons involved as many departures as the nine traded away in the two weeks that ended Friday — seven in a 24-hour stretch. Never mind the magnitude of the players traded.
Not a rebuild?
Hoyer said the moves “accelerated” the Cubs’ process of winning again and helped reset the organization with more “prospect currency” and “financial currency” moving forward.
So does that mean the team will be at least marginally competitive next year, or could we be looking at maybe a “bridge” season or two?
“I can’t really answer that right now,” Hoyer said.
That’s the part fans paying the highest prices in the game have a right to think is scary.
The organization right now has one bankable starting pitcher heading into next year in Kyle Hendricks and one holdover All-Star-caliber position player in Willson Contreras.
After adding Nick Madrigal in the Craig Kimbrel trade with the White Sox, it has two nice-looking young contact hitters in the middle infield, including one (Nico Hoerner) who can field his position well — albeit, both still trying to establish they can be reliable everyday players and stay healthy.
And aside from some good, young, unproven arms, an underrated role player for the pitching staff (Alec Mills), a promising outfield prospect who might debut next year (Brennen Davis) and a once-heralded switch-hitter (Ian Happ) playing more this year like a non-tender candidate, that’s it for projectable players under control who might contribute to a future winner.
Go ahead and cherry pick an additional prospect or somebody who came back in one of the trades (Codi Heuer?) to add to the list, but the point is there’s nobody like Bryant or Báez coming in the system and precious little impact pitching ready to win in the big leagues anytime soon.
So we don’t have to ask whether this is a rebuild or not.
As former manager Joe Maddon said after the trades Friday, “The Beatles are gone, man.”
And nobody knows who belts out the next wave of big hits for this major-market team that raised expectations the last six years — including, apparently, Hoyer.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do. So no one knows what we’re going to do yet,” Hoyer said.
That’s the point. That’s the scary part. That’s the rebuild.
Maybe he’s got something up his sleeve he’s not willing to share.
But the next two free agent markets aren’t exactly brimming with answers for filling a laundry list of needs fast — a path neither ownership nor the front office has shown an appetite for going down regardless.
And don’t get fooled into thinking the likes of Bryant or Báez are coming back as Cubs free agent signings; Báez already looks more likely to extend with the Mets, and he’s by far the likelier of the two.
Hoyer said fans should wait to see what his front office does this winter to understand the direction and possible timeline. But he also said Friday and again on the local radio circuit Monday that he can’t know what he’ll do until he sees how the new collective bargaining agreement looks compared to the one that expires Dec. 1.
Executives and active union members across the game widely expect negotiations to be contentious and extend well beyond that deadline, which, in turn, could push Hoyer’s waiting game on the new CBA into 2022.
Hoyer talked about figuring out the “right path” and that sometimes that “might mean letting the garden grow for a long time because you need to let those prospect mature, and sometimes it might mean accelerating through free agency.”
He stopped himself at one point to acknowledge he was rambling.
“I don’t know the answer,” he said. “But this idea that anyone knows how we’re going to pursue it — I don’t know yet.”
In the end Hoyer tried so hard to distance this process from the 2012-14 process that he made it sound worse than the last one, and it’s only just begun.
And at the worst possible time for fans who have raised expectations and accountability almost as fast as the Cubs have raised their prices since the 2016 World Series — not to mention after many just had their hearts ripped out by the core-gutting trades.
Does anybody really believe they'll use that renewed "financial currency" to spend big anytime soon? Does anybody remember chairman Tom Ricketts bemoaning short-term revenue losses of "biblical proportions" during last year's pandemic shutdown?
Maybe that’s what all the damage control is about the last few days, from Hoyer doubling down Monday on blaming Bryant, Rizzo and Báez for not getting extensions done to Ricketts sending a letter to season-ticket holders that finished with a plea to be patient and a reminder of how “extremely exciting” it is to follow prospects during a rebuilding process.
Hard to believe?
Read the final passage for yourself:
“We understand it might take a little time to process these changes as we integrate new players into our already talented roster. If the past tells us anything, watching a remarkable team come together is extremely exciting and rewarding, especially when everyone is aligned on the goal of winning the World Series. Highly anticipated call-ups. Wrigley Field debuts. Immediate big-league impact. It’s all part of what makes our game special. We’re grateful for the chance to share in that joy and journey together again.”
“Already talented roster”?
“Highly anticipated call-ups”?
Rebuilding “makes our game special”?
He probably should have stopped at “biblical proportions."
Maybe Hoyer will pull off the rarity he and Epstein did in the same place, for the second time in a decade.
For now, thanks in part to Epstein’s abrupt resignation last fall, the only thing that’s certain is he’s going to have to wear another rebuild. Even if he refuses to own it.