The Rundown: Failure to Develop Starters Closed Cubs Window of Contention, Hoyer Insists Team Not Tanking, Nobody Really Wants NL Central Crown

Apparently, keeping a window of contention open is a lot more difficult than any of us thought it would be and multiple championships were just a bit too much to ask for. After winning it all in 2016, and even after the Cubs were eliminated by the Dodgers in 2017, it still felt like there was something significant to build upon. Where did it all go wrong?

Let’s start with the rotation, and specifically, the organization’s failure to develop starters in the minor leagues..

  • Rob Zastryzny was the first and only homegrown starter to take the bump during that championship season, starting the team’s September 29 game against the Pirates after the Cubs had clinched the NL Central. Zastryzny was a second round pick in 2013.
  • In 2017, the Cubs did not have a single starter who was an original draft pick of the organization.
  • Duane Underwood Jr., who was drafted in the 2nd round by the Cubs in 2012, got a single start in 2018.
  • Chicago got two starts from Adbert Alzolay in 2019 an four this past season. Due to injuries and lack of rotation slots, Alzolay is still rookie-eligible.
  • Tyson Miller earned a single start with two appearances in 2020 and Brailyn Márquez, projected to be a starter some time in 2021 or ’22, did get some relief work against the White Sox at the end of the season.

That’s nine starts by pitchers developed in the Cubs system in five years. In 2016, the Cubs were hailed as the model for rebuilding a franchise. Now that Kyle Schwarber has been cut and Yu Darvish has been traded, Chicago is at a crossroads of sorts. President of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said his team expects to contend for a division championship in 2021, but his moves, at least so far, suggest otherwise.

The Cubs saved $7-8 million when they launched Schwarber into free agency and another $10.2 million by trading Darvish and acquiring Zach Davies. They added four 10-20 range prospects in the deal as well, but those players won’t hit the bigs until 2023 or ’24 at the earliest, if ever. Dumping salary for what appears to be mostly minor league depth doesn’t portend championship-caliber baseball. Neither does relying on so many reclamation projects. Hoyer may still have several moves to make in the coming year, but unless he signs any of his remaining core to contract extensions or goes completely crazy in free agency, 2021 will eventually be remembered as something vastly different than a “small reset.”

Hoyer made comparisons to the Red Sox and Yankees when discussing the Darvish trade, but this feels a little bit more like the 2016-17 White Sox, who traded Chris Sale, José Quintana, and Adam Eaton to kickstart their middling farm system. The only difference is that Rick Hahn was able to poach Yoán Moncada, Michael Kopech, Eloy Jiménez, Dylan Cease, and Lucas Giolito with his big moves. The Cubs, on the other hand, got nothing for Schwarber and their haul in the Darvish trade comes with a lot more risk as none of the players acquired — Reginald Preciado, Yeison Santana, Owen Caissie, and Ismael Mena — have played above the rookie level.

Further, Hoyer has done nothing to strengthen or deepen his pitching staff and will likely have to turn to free agency once again to lengthen his rotation unless more trades are made. If the Darvish deal is an indicator of the team’s near-term plans, the front office will probably have to move a player like Willson Contreras, Kyle Hendricks, or Ian Happ to recoup anything significant, especially if acquiring young starting pitching is the goal.

I suppose it’s easy to assume the window of contention has closed for the North Side baseball club without knowing what work remains to be done. Then again, the Cubs have dropped all the way to number 15 in the latest 2021 power rankings. Being right in the middle of the pack tells us that Hoyer is probably straddling the notion of attempting a full rebuild. If spending money is not an option to fill the team’s current holes, it’s hard to believe he is being fully forthright about the team’s short term objective to contend.

Cubs News & Notes

Odds & Sods

If it looks like a duck, and walks like a… well, you get it.

Monday Stove

A number of the game’s brightest young stars, including Gleyber Torres, are looking ahead to potential bounceback seasons in ’21.

The NL Central appears to be there for the taking. That is, if any team truly wants it.

The Padres remain hopeful that they will be able to extend shortstop Fernando Tatís Jr. before spring training starts.

The Red Sox are one of several teams interested in signing free agent closer Alex Colomé.

The Indians are hopeful they can start voluntary spring training workouts as early as this week.

Yankees catcher Gary Sánchez is the first MLB player to declare “new year, new me,” surely to be followed this spring with “I’m in the best shape of my career.”

Former Yankees and Twins starter Phil Hughes has decided to retire.

Would banning the shift make baseball more entertaining? Left-handed hitters were shifted in 50.8% of their plate appearances in 2020, a number that continues to rise each year.

Sliding Into Home

First of all, I hope everybody celebrated the New Year in a safe manner, and I truly wish that all of your 2021 endeavors will be successful. Secondly, our good friend Scott hit the Injured List over the long holiday weekend with a rotator cuff injury. Though surgery is probably not a likely option, he will be prohibited from participating in any baseball activities for at least a few weeks. Please send Scott a gratuitous “howdy” and continue keeping him in your good thoughts and graces.

Extra Innings

What exactly is a hype video when there is truly so little to hype? If you can’t sell the fans on the team, sell them on its majestic ballpark. It’s worked before.

They Said It

  • “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. As far as our direction, I think we’re going to have a really competitive team next year.” – Jed Hoyer
  • “In a contracting financial market … I do feel like by definition people are going to hold on tighter to those close-to-the-big-leagues prospects because those are cheap, they’re talented. As you cut back money, those guys become more important.” – Hoyer
  • “We know we have to add players through free agency and we’ll be looking to do that.” – Hoyer

Monday Walk Up Song

Build by The Housemartins – Hoyer has a lot of work to do. In the meantime, don’t forget how much you love Wrigley Field when deciding whether or not to renew that season ticket package.

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