The unique challenge Jed Hoyer faces with 2023 Cubs
When the MLB trade deadline rolls around on Tuesday, Aug. 1, what will the Cubs be — buyers or sellers?
The short answer is: Nobody knows.
Not even Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer.
At least not yet.
With 48 days to go before the trade deadline, Hoyer sat on the top row of the Cubs dugout at Wrigley Field and acknowledged the strange position he and his team are in this summer.
The Cubs enter play Thursday with a 30-37 record and a -1 run differential. They sit in 4th place in the NL Central, 4.5 games behind the 1st-place Pirates and 5.5 games out of the last NL Wild-Card spot.
On the other side of the coin, the Cubs woke up Thursday morning with the best run differential in the division and still have 11 games remaining against the Pirates this season.
Coming into the year, the Brewers and Cardinals were expected to be the Cubs’ top two foes in the division. Milwaukee has lost 6 straight games while St. Louis has the 3rd-worst record in baseball (ahead of only the A’s and Royals).
“Certainly it’s weird to be at a point where you say that about a division in the middle of June where I think anyone can still win it but no one has pulled away or even pulled away from .500,” Hoyer said. “That’s one of the challenges of evaluating your team. You’re evaluating where you are in the standings but you’re also evaluating how you’re performing.
“Some of that is component numbers but some of that is where you are in relation to .500 as well. All those things are a factor moving forward.”
There’s definitely a sense of urgency around the Cubs clubhouse. They understand the season is approaching the its halfway point and if they’re going to be playing beyond Oct. 1, they need to go on a sustained run of winning at some point soon.
With the expanded playoffs and the nature of the weak Central division, the Cubs are still very much in the thick of it despite being 7 games under .500.
But as Hoyer said, his front office is also assessing how the team is playing.
The lineup has been on fire on this homestand, combining to hang 21 runs on 27 hits against the Pirates pitching staff in the first 2 games of the series.
Prior to that, the Cubs had gone through a long rough patch on offense. During a six-week stretch from May 1 through Monday, the Cubs tallied the second-fewest runs in baseball, plating just 1 more run than the Pirates in that stretch (128 to 127). In that same span, the Cubs ranked 29th in strikeout rate, slugging percentage and OPS and last in batting average (.218).
Led by a superhuman effort from Marcus Stroman, the rotation has been very good, ranking 6th in MLB in ERA this season (3.94). The starting staff will receive a boost when Justin Steele returns (which will likely be Saturday) while Kyle Hendricks appears to have found his pre-2021 form.
But the Cubs bullpen has not found consistency all season, sitting at 25th in MLB with a 4.60 ERA — and that number has risen to 5.05 since May 1 (which ranks 26th in baseball).
If the Cubs are going to turn it around this season, they’ll have to get the bullpen in order while the lineup gets back to the sustained success it had in April, when the Cubs led the NL in average, OBP and OPS.
“You can see the core of a team that can play winning baseball being put together,” Cubs GM Carter Hawkins said on the Marquee Sports Network broadcast Wednesday night. “It’s just we haven’t done it consistently enough yet.
“… We’re all aware of that and obviously we can’t just hope that it’s gonna change. We have to actually put plans in place to make it change.”
Hoyer and Co. still have six weeks to make a final determination on which path they take at the deadline.
“We have a ways to go,” Hoyer said. “A lot happens in that time. We’ve only played 10 weeks so far. We have six more to play to get a feel for where we are. We have to evaluate all that.
“Obviously given where we are in relation to .500, I think in a normal season, we would be looking at a much steeper climb than we are right now. That’s a fortunate thing.”