With teardown done, how fast can Hoyer assemble a winner?


So much for that 2014 feel the end of this rebuilding Cubs season was supposed to have, and what that might portend for next year.

Instead, on an otherwise beautiful Thursday afternoon at Wrigley Field, it very much took on a 2013 vibe — not even counting the loss to a crappy team.

The announced attendance of 23,910 was the Cubs’ lowest for a home game without pandemic-related attendance restrictions since Sept. 4, 2013, on a Wednesday afternoon game against the Marlins.

This was always the big risk in embarking on another tank job a decade after the last one — well, that and the inherent lack of assurance it’s going to work again after abdicating full seasons in a multiyear rebuilding effort (see: Chicago White Sox).

The fans came back last time in a big way once the competitive baseball came back in an even bigger way. So maybe they will again, as long as the rebuild thing works again.

But it can’t help the big-market, top-dollar-charging Cubs — who claim to rely on that big attendance for a large chunk of annual revenue — to keep smacking fans with these intentional strip-down-and-rebuild elbows to face every decade or so, either.

They’re on pace for 95 losses after losing 91 games last year, and if they don’t get the offseason as right — and as big — as they did in 2014-15, it could be at least another year of pain before the turnaround.

But with last month’s announcement that Jason Heyward will be released, with Willson Contreras headed to free agency and with Kyle Hendricks heading into the final guaranteed year of his contract, the dirty work Theo Epstein left behind — blowing up the last core — is almost finished.

So, congratulation, Jed Hoyer. It’s all yours now. No holdovers for anyone to point to as Theo’s guys the next time the team makes the playoffs.

No excuses, either.

Whatever comes next is your team. Your legacy.

As my dad once told my kid brother upon discovering after work one day that the aspiring auto shop star had turned the insides of a 1952 fixer-upper Ford pickup into approximately 117 pieces strewn across the back yard, “Anyone can take it apart, son.”

Twenty years later, my brother still had that truck.

“Check out the ‘52,” he said during a visit that year, reaching into the engine and making the motor start.

“It’s closer than it looks,” he said. “I’m gonna have it done this summer.”

This time there were maybe 19 pieces of the body and cab, including the seat, strewn across his garage (and the ignition obviously not connected).

This is a true story. He still gets crap about it over beers in his garage.

Which isn’t to say Hoyer’s Not-A-Rebuild, Build-A-Champ project is going to take 20 years (although we do remember how long the last one took after 1908).

Besides, it won’t be his project anymore If it does.

But now comes the real work — and we don’t mean all those well-documented 40-man roster decisions in the next couple months involving Double-A pitchers and Triple-A outfielders.

To steal line from friend of the column Patrick Mooney of The Athletic during a too-long conversation a while back about all those roster questions, “We’ll be telling our grandchildren someday about the Cubs’ great 40-man roster crunch of 2022.”

So let’s see what it looks like when it’s all put back together. See which pieces still work. Which pieces fit like they’re supposed to. Whether it’ll start without lifting the hood again.

This is the intriguing part to watch — maybe even the fun part for some — especially if it involves genuine effort to sign impactful, frontline players in free agency, such as Friday’s opposing starter, Carlos Rodón. Or one of the big shortstops, such as Xander Boegarts or Trea Turner.

And then let’s see how the next crop of young Cubs stacks up against Oneil Cruz, Ke’Bryan Hayes, Hunter Greene and Jonathan India the next few years in the division — never mind next-generation NL talents like Michael Harris and Spencer Strider outside the division.

Hayden Wesneski looked really good in a five-inning debut Tuesday (albeit, against a pretty bad team). Justin Steele looks like a long-term, impactful part of the rotation, assuming injury issues are mostly behind him. Nico Hoerner seems the real deal, and Ian Happ looks like he’s turned a big corner in his career this year — making the extension question the big one with him (if not both).

The jury’s still out on most of the young guys — some of the “name” guys in the system still as far away as A ball.

Which makes all those promises by ownership and the front office about an aggressive winter of spending critical to assure at least improvement of a product with fewer interested customers these days (that doesn't even count the tough-watch MOPE broadcasts).

Who knows what it’ll look like by spring?

What we do know is that the old man always has been wiser than any press box wag.

And the kid brother at least had a timeline.

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