How the Cubs view their next competitive window
DENVER — In the aftermath of the most emotional trade deadline in Cubs history, many fans were curious what’s next for this organization.
It’s a natural — and understandable — response.
Some took last week’s sell-off as a sign that the team was launching a full-scale rebuild. Others were convinced the Cubs could be big players on the free agent market and get back in the pennant race in 2022.
Some fans simply didn’t know what to think.
But what do the people who are in charge of this franchise think? How do they view the Cubs’ next competitive window following a trade deadline that saw three franchise icons (Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javy Báez) dealt to new teams?
Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts joined the Marquee Sports Network pregame show Tuesday evening and while he didn’t want to give an exact date for when the team would be competing in the World Series, he spoke about the team’s championship window.
“In order to win the World Series, you got to win your division,” Ricketts said. “We look at next year as a year that we can be competitive and we can get back into the mix in our division; and that’s where it starts. This is not like the kind of situation we were in 10 years ago when we built this championship team.
“But I’ll say, we are building a new championship team and the fact is everything that happened last week really has accelerated that process. What I would tell fans — what I’ve told a lot of fans, I see a lot of fans, I talk to them a lot when I walk around the street — the fact is this is going to be another journey towards a great team.
“I think Jed’s done a great job of teeing up a lot of talent to get there. And it’s going to be fun. Let’s just enjoy the process again and let’s get back on top.”
Hoyer echoed those same sentiments Tuesday evening in Colorado, pointing to his first two seasons in Chicago where the Cubs averaged 98.5 losses a year.
“This is not gonna be a 2012-13 situation in any way,” the Cubs president of baseball operations said. “We’re gonna be looking to compete right away.”
Hoyer reiterated what he said last week after the trade deadline — his chief goal is to build the next great Cubs team. He doesn’t want to keep putting Band-Aids on the roster.
“I don’t have any interest in just sort of patching things up and saying this is good enough,” Hoyer said. “The legacy of this group ultimately is that we changed the expectations here. That would’ve been perfectly acceptable before — to compete for a Wild-Card was OK.
“And now people want to see what ’15 and ’16 and ’17 was again. And that’s what we owe these fans now. … People should understand the long-term goal is to build the next great Cubs team but certainly in the short term, I believe we’re gonna be very competitive.”
A big reason why the Cubs believe they can re-open their competitive window again is the player development system they have in place throughout the entire organization.
“This is really different than what we saw in 2011 and 2012,” Ricketts said. “When Theo [Epstein] and Jed came in, we had a very bottom farm system. We had Javy and Willy [Contreras] playing in Boise together. Other than that, no other players from that farm system were on the championship team in 2016. We had a really talent-poor system then. We don’t now.
“First of all, we have really good talent. The depth that we received in these trades plus what we already had give us a pretty good farm system. I think secondly, what’s different than 2011 or 2012 is that our entire infrastructure is so much better. Not just rebuilding the facilities in the Dominican Republic or building the best Spring Training facility or the ballparks up here.
“The entire infrastructure with Hit Labs and Pitch Labs and the amount of time and energy we put into first-class player development. This talent that we’re bringing in, we should be able to find higher ceilings for all of them. That’s something that didn’t exist 10 years ago.”
The Cubs also have a big tool in their toolbelt moving forward — financial flexibility. The team has only about $41 million committed to their 2022 payroll. For context, the Cubs opened 2021 with a payroll north of $156 million.
“With these guys leaving, Jed will have pretty clean books going forward and a lot of flexibility to make the right decisions on where he spends his financial resources,” Ricketts said. “On top of that, the last 10 years we’ve invested a lot in the ballpark so we can get more financial resources so we can get them over to Jed. I don’t see this as a long-term, brutal rebuild like we had to go through 10 years ago. I think we can bounce back relatively quickly and we’re looking forward to doing that.”
Ultimately, there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding Major League Baseball’s offseason for the upcoming winter.
The Collective Bargaining Agreement expires in December and there will likely be significant rule changes to the game — DH in the National League, etc. — that would change the equation for Hoyer’s front office in building out their roster beyond 2021.
“I never want to be disingenuous and say, ‘here’s the exact plan,’” Hoyer said. “When the fact is, you can’t really lay out an exact plan when there’s so many things that are uncertain in front of that.
“…When I say I don’t know exactly when we’re gonna [be World Series contenders again], it’s more because I’m being honest. We have the ability to be opportunistic and we have the ability to pivot if things come up.”