Cubs turning rebuild narrative into performance art originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
The cast of Second City showed up at Wrigley Field with a rousing, entertaining performance during the seventh-inning stretch Thursday afternoon during an otherwise routine 10th consecutive loss by the Cubs.
But the stage performance of the day was delivered before the game in the Cubs’ dugout when team president Jed Hoyer put on a 33-minute, one-man show that was part drama, part comedy and almost all tragedy if you’re a fan paying face-value prices for admission.
Timelines? We don’t have no stinking timelines.
Willson Contreras’ trade-deadline fortunes? [Mime act.]
Team regression since last year? [Dance routine.]
State of a lousy season that landed the Cubs in last place Thursday: [Dramatic intonation over losing streak.]
The season wasn’t lousy before the losing streak? “Obviously, there’s been real frustrations. Even when I think we were competing and playing well, we weren’t winning games. … I felt like we were battling and really competing through Friday.”
This is where the comedy part begins.
Not as laughable as the not-so-funny comedy of Frank Schwindel pitching twice in the last five games because of blowouts — or the occasional comedy of errors like the two popups that fell between multiple Cubs within 60 feet of the plate in New York Sunday and against the Brewers 11 days before that.
As one press box wag said Thursday: “Good thing they locked up Ross [through 2024].”
But this actually isn’t on manager David Ross. Take a look at the roster Hoyer put together.
And in fairness to Hoyer, this is Act II of a tragicomedy that began with the forced salary dump 18 months ago of Yu Darvish — the Cy Young runner-up who beat the Cubs Monday for Loss No. 7 in the 10-game losing streak.
Hoyer, who also non-tendered Kyle Schwarber that winter in another cost-cutting move and subsequently jettisoned Kris Bryant, Javy Báez and Anthony Rizzo during a trade deadline purge last summer, won’t call this a rebuild, much less a multiyear rebuild, much, much less a second tank job in a decade.
Doing so would send the incriminating scrutiny up the ladder to Ricketts family ownership, where all the biblical fire, destruction and core-smiting of this team began in the first place.
So when Hoyer got pushback Thursday from a visibly irritated veteran baseball writer about suggesting that the team had played well until the losing streak and that this rebuild won’t be a long process, Hoyer said:
“I didn’t say that at all. I said I don’t have a sense — I have a sense of how to build the next great [Cubs] team and where we want to go. I didn’t give you any sense of timing. In fact, I don’t have a feel for that.”
How could he? How could anyone know whether Caleb Kilian, for instance, will be ready for prime time by next season, or the next, or at all. Or whether Keegan Thompson is as good as he showed in two months as a swingman or as shaky as he looked in those last two starts — or anything in between? Whether Chris Morel has staying power? Whether somebody like Ian Happ will even still be here?
The fact is these are historically bad times for the Cubs, and the lack of transparency from the top is an ongoing messaging problem for the team and its nothing-to-see-here, Marquee Overly Positive Energy (MOPE) network.
Consider that the 10-game losing streak is the third double-digit losing streak in a calendar year — a first in franchise history.
And consider that the last 162 games this team has played produced a 58-104 record — which would represent a franchise record for losses if it were a single season.
Then consider that a franchise made famous for losing for almost a century had only two 100-loss seasons until Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer showed up, then tanked for a third in 2012. Then after a comet-like streak of success embarked on a second rebuild in a decade that has them in the midst of a season on pace for a fourth.
The only question about this year’s trade deadline is whether the Cubs will match or exceed the nine players Hoyer traded last July — and how much worse the team’s performance might get after that.
Which brings it all back to just how long this might take. And just how far away this team is from being anything close to that “next great Cubs team” Hoyer insists he knows how to build.
Nobody knows. Not even the architect in charge.
“I don’t think I’m sugarcoating anything,” Hoyer said when asked about whether he thinks the timeline seems further away than he thought when the season began. “I don’t feel like we’ve had a chance to really get everyone on the field and playing. … You’re asking me to make some pretty global statements based on that, and maybe later in the season is the right time, but not now.”
But later in the season, after the Aug. 2 trade deadline, the roster will be gutted with a parade of prospects playing — in addition to the 15 rookies who already have seen playing time.
What kind of timeline will the Cubs be looking at then? How will Hoyer know any better — unless one or two of them are having monster finishes. Or nobody is.
Hoyer was asked whether he’s getting questions about the process from his bosses, business president Crane Kenney and chairman Tom Ricketts — who said in an open letter to fans Oct. 15 that “we have the resources necessary to compete in 2022 and beyond, and we will use them.”
“Everyone has questions,” Hoyer said. “I have questions. Rossy has questions. You’d be not paying attention or not doing your job if you didn’t have questions about why we’re struggling in certain areas. They should be asking questions.”
If that sounds like those are questions with heat or accountability attached to the results, maybe not so much, at least not yet.
“I probably said that wrong,” Hoyer said. “I talk to those guys all the time. And of course when you’re losing [you hear] the basic questions we’re all asking: Why are we struggling? What can we do about it? What are we working on? Those are the questions I’m here late at night asking as well.”
Meanwhile, fans are increasingly asking what exactly they’re getting for their money.
And, from the looks of attendance these days, asking whether watching position players throw eephus pitches every few days is worth it.
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