What Hoyer, Cubs front office can take away from a strong finish to 2022
On a cloudy, dreary afternoon at Wrigley Field, Jed Hoyer stood a stone’s throw away from third base and talked with Chicago media about the future.
The Cubs’ top two draft picks — Cade Horton and Jackson Ferris — were in town for Thursday’s series finale with the Cardinals and much of the discussion with Hoyer was centered around where this organization is going in 2023 and beyond.
But to understand where you’re going, you also have to know where you came from.
During the media session, Hoyer was asked if he sees any parallels between this 2022 Cubs team and the 2014 squad.
2014 marked third year for Hoyer and Theo Epstein with the Cubs and the final few months of that season marked the unofficial end of the rebuild.
The Cubs went 31-28 over the final two-plus months of that 2014 campaign and some positive momentum started to build in that span. Real optimism for the future.
“The overall record wasn’t impressive but the last couple months were impressive,” Hoyer said of 2014. “And it definitely gave us the confidence that what we were building on top of was starting to be real.”
At that time, the Cubs had a couple of lineup cornerstones in Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro. Young stars Javy Báez and Jorge Soler debuted late in the season while Kyle Hendricks impressed in 13 starts as a 24-year-old rookie.
Jake Arrieta was emerging as a bonafide star and in the bullpen, Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop had developed into reliable high-leverage relievers. Plus, top prospects like Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber were knocking on the door in the minor leagues.
That winter, the Cubs went out and aggressively added to the group of young players they already had in town. Epstein and Hoyer signed Jon Lester and David Ross in free agency and traded for Miguel Montero and Dexter Fowler.
The 2015 Cubs wound up winning 97 games and advanced all the way to the NLCS.
The organization isn’t in the exact same spot right now, but there are definite similarities.
And a strong finish to the 2022 campaign can have a serious impact on how Hoyer’s front office approaches the offseason.
Entering play Thursday, the Cubs had won five series in a row and had a chance to take another series from the division-leading Cardinals.
St. Louis pulled off an 8-3 victory but even with that loss, the Cubs are still 20-14 since July 17.
They have a tough road trip coming up against three teams in the thick of a playoff race (Brewers, Blue Jays, Cardinals) but the Cubs also have 13 games left against the Reds and Pirates and another 6 against the Rockies and Marlins.
“I’d love to finish strong that way I felt in 2014,” Hoyer said. “I’d love to feel that way. … We’ve been playing really, really good baseball. In spite of the fact that we traded — I traded — our bullpen away.
“These guys have been stepping up. It’s really encouraging to watch. … In a way, it’s sort of similar to 2014. It gave us confidence going into the offseason that what we were building on was fairly close.”
There have been positive signs up and down the roster over the last month-plus.
Justin Steele, Nico Hoerner and Keegan Thompson have enjoyed legitimate breakout seasons and look like solid building blocks for the future.
Ian Happ, Seiya Suzuki, Marcus Stroman, Franmil Reyes, Patrick Wisdom, Brandon Hughes, Rowan Wick and Hendricks are under team control through at least next season.
There wasn’t as much hype surrounding Christopher Morel and Nelson Velázquez coming up through the Cubs system as there was with Báez and Soler, but it’s still a pair of intriguing young players getting a taste of life in the majors.
Then there’s the optimism surrounding the next wave of young talent.
In the past, Hoyer was reticent about comparing this year’s team to 2014 because back then, the organization’s top prospects were already close to Chicago. That’s not the case now with many of the team’s top prospects currently at the lower levels of the minors.
But Brennen Davis is back on the field after a serious back injury and power-hitting outfielder Alexander Canario was just promoted to Triple-A Iowa.
There’s also a slew of young pitchers who become factors in Chicago soon — starters like Caleb Kilian and Hayden Wesneski and relievers like Jeremiah Estrada. A pair of 25-year-old righties (Javier Assad and Nicholas Padilla) made their MLB debuts this week against the Cardinals.
The Cubs know they need to add more impact talent to this roster overall and finishing on a high note could make those type of moves more of a reality this winter.
“I’m thrilled that we’re playing this way,” Hoyer said. “…We felt as we were struggling, we were much better than this and we were playing a hard schedule. We were playing below expectations and we had some injuries.
“So it’s nice to even that out to a certain extent. Certainly our focus is on winning series and I hope we continue to play well.”