How a pair of games helped solidify Cubs’ decision to buy at deadline
The 5 o’clock shadow and unbuttoned top button his dress shirt screamed of someone with minimal sleep of late.
So, you can forgive Jed Hoyer when he was struggling to remember what day Mike Tauchman made his unbelievable, game-saving, walk-off catch to preserve the Cubs’ 3-2 win over St. Louis.
“My nights are all blurred together because I haven’t slept — but the Tauchman catch game, I mean that that was sort of like, ‘OK, this is a lot of fun,’” Hoyer said. “These guys are celebrating like it’s a playoff game. And just doing so many great things together as a group.”
It was one of two games — the other their win over the White Sox after trailing 7-2 — over the last week where Hoyer’s decision to make the Cubs buyers — not sellers for the third year in a row — was solidified. He backed that up by picking up arguably the best hitter on the market in Jeimer Candelario and a pair of relievers to provide depth for their bullpen.
For good stretches this year, the Cubs were seemingly teetering on that edge. Some days, they looked like bonafide buyers, a team strong enough and deep enough to contend for a spot in the playoffs. Other stretches, like their 3-game set in Anaheim in June, cast doubt.
But after that series in Anaheim, the Cubs took 2 of 3 from the Giants and have played like buyers. Since June 9, that first game in San Francisco, the Cubs are 28-17, tied for the 3rd -best record in baseball in that time. In the 13 games leading into Tuesday’s trade deadline, the Cubs were 10-3 entrenching themselves even more as a playoff contender.
“That was probably the turning point where you realize this group believes in each other,” Hoyer said. “And it’s definitely the right thing to do to, like I said, to keep them together and let them play the last two months.”
Still, Hoyer kept his hand close to his chest. Even as recently as last week, he was scouring the market as both a seller and buyer, trying to find the right feel in each potential lane.
“You have to sort of play both sides,” Hoyer said. “More and more as we got in toward deep last week, other teams are calling, they’re like ‘You’re not selling.’ So I think people stopped taking us seriously as a seller like, ‘Come on, you guys are good, you guys are gonna buy.’
“But we have to have those conversations, you have to lay the groundwork for everything.”
In conversations with his counterparts across the league, Hoyer’s belief about the Cubs’ system was reaffirmed. The depth of the minor-league talent pool is deep. And that allowed them to trade two quality prospects — shortstop Kevin Made and left-handed pitcher DJ Herz — and not feel like they had to drain their prospect reserves.
The Cubs have done a terrific job recently in development — players like Justin Steele, Adbert Alzolay and Daniel Palencia show the organization’s ability to develop arms and hitters like Ian Happ, Christopher Morel and Nico Hoerner give them confidence in their offensive infrastructure.
So, when the Cubs do make a trade like this, they know they aren’t hurting their future outlooks.
“It is nice to feel as an organization that we’re really healthy,” Hoyer said. “I think that we can use that health both in the big leagues and in trade for a number of years. And I do have a lot of confidence when we trade guys that, both in drafting and in player development, that we’ll replenish that quickly and I think that’s really important.”
Make no mistake, though. The decision to become buyers wasn’t the result of a good two-week stretch against the Cardinals and White Sox. It was a season’s worth of results. The Cubs have had a winning record in every month save for May and that stretch since June 9 shows a semblance of the team they can be.
Adding Candelario sent a clear message to the Cubs’ clubhouse: Hoyer and the front office believe in them and by filling a clear need on the roster, it strengthens their position to chase down Milwaukee and Cincinnati in the NL Central.
The players sensed that, too.
“I mean, we got a great team,” said Dansby Swanson, who signed a 7-year deal in the offseason. “We got a lot of great camaraderie. I feel like you can just see the work that we’ve put in, not only on the field but off the field and what we expect out of one another.
“It’s just been such a fun experience.”
And it signals to the rest of baseball that the Cubs are ready to compete in October again.
“Every year’s different and I feel like this year we’ve really started to set a precedent for what we expect for things to be around here,” Swanson said. “A lot of guys have been buying into it and it’s been really really fun to be a part of it.”