How Cubs front office is viewing and preparing for next month leading up to trade deadline
Nearly three weeks ago, the Cubs were probably at their lowest point of the season. Ten games under .500, the feeling was the Cubs could be headed for another trade deadline where they’d see players shipped away.
Now, 19 days have passed since their series opener in San Francisco kicked off an 11-4 run that’s seen them crawl back into the NL Central race.
So, as general manager Carter Hawkins sat in the Cubs’ dugout Wednesday afternoon before their 8-5 loss against the Phillies, he shared the sentiment around the team — one where the narrative has shifted.
“I think we’re playing for a goal beyond just playing 162,” Hawkins said. “We wanna play a lot more than that. To know that there’s a good chance that we’re gonna be in contention going into the end of the year, that’s definitely exciting.”
It’s easy to talk about additions or buying at the trade deadline, but the Cubs needed the sort of run they went on to even start having that on their minds. But it doesn’t stop there. The Cubs can’t rest on their laurels and think they’re buyers when over a month stands between now and the trade deadline. They have to keep their foot on the gas pedal over the last 11 games going into the All-Star break and the last few weeks before the trade deadline.
“More of the same, right?” Hawkins said. “That consistency of putting together all three phases of our game — the offense, the defense and the pitching — and obviously that leads to wins. Wins lead to improving our playoff odds and [if] we do that more and more, it puts us in a position to buy. I think continuing to see that, we’ll be in a really good place.”
Again, none of that means that the Cubs are content with their situation. After Wednesday’s loss, they sat 4 games under .500 and 4.5 games back of the Reds in the division.
“I don’t think that we would ever, from an organizational standpoint, say having a losing record is good enough,” Hawkins said. “I think given where our division is right now, the fact that we are where are, there’s still encouraging things in the future for us. But I don’t think any of us look at our record and say ‘Hey we’re below .500 and that’s OK.’”
The nature of the division means the Cubs are in a playoff race — winning record or not. That’s the one thing they’re looking at.
So, what does that mean for the trade deadline and improving the team? Hawkins was a bit more discrete. He referenced the 2021 Braves, who were 3 games under .500, 5 games back of the Mets and had an 11.9% chance to make the playoffs at the deadline. They made several moves, acquiring veterans like Joc Pederson, Eddie Rosario and eventual World Series MVP Jorge Soler.
Hawkins also included the 2022 Guardians, who stood pat at the deadline and still won the AL Central crown.
“So you know, there’s a lot of different ways to skin the cat,” Hawkins said. “And we’ll certainly explore all those and try to make sure we’re factoring all the information we can.”
When the Cubs traded away Yu Darvish after the 2020 season, president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said there were two types of assets for a front office — “financial currency and you have prospect currency.” They were thin on the latter at the time, partially why they pivoted from that moment into acquiring more depth in their farm system.
This offseason, the Cubs flexed their financial currency, spending over $300 million in the free agent market. Now, they have enough “prospect currency” that it gives them flexibility as they look to compete in the division. They can choose to trust those prospects, calling up players like Ben Brown, Jared Young, Matt Mervis or others to fill needs on the team and hope they can step in and help the team win. Or they can choose to trade from that depth to fill those needs externally.
“So the nerd in me — there’s a lot of nerd in me, but — you think of decisions of reversible decisions and irreversible decisions,” Hawkins said. “Making a trade is an irreversible decision. And any high-leverage irreversible decision, you wanna wait as long as you possibly can.
“But at the same time, sometimes those things hit you in the face, you can’t wait any longer and you make a decision before all of the information is out there. In a perfect world, you have as much info as you can before you make a decision like that.”
In this world, the Cubs have about 30 or so days to make those decisions. And that all starts with the on-field performance of the current roster, sans any outside transactions.
“I don’t think these guys need motivation on a day-by-day process,” Hawkins said. “They’re all professionals. And regardless of where we are, they’re gonna do everything they possibly can on a day-by-day basis. Just knowing that we’re right there in the hunt, it’s exciting. I know it’s exciting for our fans. It’s exciting for the guys in the office and we’re doing everything we can to make sure that fun continues.”