How Jed Hoyer views Cubs’ competitive window after Darvish deal
Baseball Twitter is a great place for reactionary insight and quick thoughts after a team makes a big deal.
But it’s not always a great place for measured takes or thoughtful analysis. Which is fine — Twitter has been called the new-age sports bar where fans talk about their favorite teams…and most people don’t take what’s said at a sports bar as gospel.
So after the Cubs traded Cy Young runner-up Yu Darvish and popular backup catcher Victor Caratini to the San Diego Padres for Zach Davies and four young prospects, a common refrain floated around social media: The Cubs are punting on 2021.
Only…that’s not how Jed Hoyer or the Cubs feel.
In his offseason Zoom session with the media, manager David Ross said his goal is always to build towards winning a championship. That was two weeks before the Darvish deal, but even after that trade, Hoyer wasn’t waving the white flag or calling this a Cubs fire sale.
After six years of making mostly win-now moves, the Cubs front office has pivoted this winter and are now prioritizing the long-term future more than they have before. That does not necessarily mean they are using the dreaded “rebuilding” word or expecting to rack up a mountain of losses in 2021.
“At some point, you have to have one eye on the future and as you get toward the end of a window, you have to make some moves that have that eye on the future,” Hoyer said Wednesday. “As far as our direction, I think we’re going to have a really competitive team next year.
“We have a lot of really good players, but do we need to make some moves with the future in mind after six years with every single move being directed on the present? Yes. I think that’s the prudent thing to do. It’s something we’ve talked about for several years. Something we haven’t done. Something that we kept pushing. We kept trading more prospects and we kept spending more money on this team and we’re at that time right now.
“Are we going to be competitive? Absolutely. But are we going to have an eye on the future and try to make sure that we continue to bolster our farm system and make sure that we can build a future that is as bright as the last six years we just went through? That’s our goal.”
Still, parting ways with Darvish was one of the difficult decisions Hoyer knew he would have to make when he replaced Theo Epstein atop the front office. He and his colleagues also felt this was the right opportunity to make to “acquire a lot of young talent” even if it meant making a move that was unpopular with the fanbase.
In an ideal world, the Darvish deal would have returned some players who are closer to making an impact at the big-league level. The Cubs received three teenage prospects and a 20-year-old in the trade — all guys who are realistically at least three or four years away from the majors.
However, that doesn’t mean the Cubs are planning to wait until 2023 or later to open their next championship window.
“Their ages don’t represent a window or when we think we can be competitive,” Hoyer said. “Having prospect currency and having a great farm system is something that is always a benefit. We got four guys that are gonna take some time, they’re gonna develop, they’re gonna take a path through the minor leagues. Their time horizon is not our time horizon, if that makes sense.
“They do really help to jumpstart our farm system in a way that is hard for a big market in the draft and the international [market] because we are operating at a disadvantage in those areas.”
One of the main components at play here for Hoyer and Co. is the years of team control for most of the members of the Cubs core. A year from now, Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Javy Báez will be free agents. Two years from now, Willson Contreras will hit the open market.
The Cubs are facing an uncertain future with all four of those guys and as a result, they are facing an uncertain future as a franchise.
While all the win-now moves helped the Cubs claim their first World Series championship in 108 years and earn back-to-back-to-back NLCS appearances, they have also not produced up to expectations the last three autumns.
Hoyer is still proud of the Cubs’ division title and performance in 2020, but he also understands and appreciates the raised standards on the North Side of Chicago — both within the organization and throughout the fanbase.
He believes some difficult decisions like the Darvish trade can help get the Cubs back on track long-term and does not view doling out megadeals on the free agent market as a viable solution this winter.
“I do want to get back to a place where we can enter the playoffs either as a favorite or with a team that can absolutely win the World Series if things go right,” Hoyer said. “I do also think every season’s sacred and I think we’re going to compete this year. But I also will say I do think it’s important to evaluate your personnel appropriately and realize that endlessly trying to push the envelope to try to win a championship every single year comes with tremendous risk.
“… Do I believe that we’re going to have a competitive team this year? Absolutely. But do I think this is a year that you push the envelope to spend and to take on older players and to continue to push because you’re trying to potentially satisfy something that you don’t necessarily believe is the right thing to do? I don’t think that’s the right thing right now.
“I don’t think being in the big free agent market this year is the right thing for the Cubs to do. Does that mean I don’t think we can compete for a championship? No. I think we absolutely can, but I don’t think spending money on a free agent this offseason is the right way to attack that problem.”