PHOENIX – Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer and manager David Ross talk enough that Hoyer’s calls aren’t guaranteed to be trade related.
This time of year, however, there’s always the chance that one starts with “I’ve got a couple things to talk to you about.”
Thursday morning, Ross picked up one of those stomach-dropping phone calls. Hours before the deal was finalized, Hoyer was reaching out to tell Ross that Joc Pederson could be headed to Atlanta.
“Being the manager, I don’t know that there’s any easy ones,” Ross said Friday. “This is the first time I went through that, and Joc -- I mean, that that stinks, man. You pour your heart and soul into these guys and them competing, and they're competing for you. And you rely on those guys and their hard work and their attitude and their professionalism.”
If there was any doubt that the Cubs would be sellers at the July 30 trade deadline, the club dealing a veteran outfielder for a first base prospect expunged the last of it. And now, the team is left to charge forward with two weeks of uncertainty ahead and over two months left to play.
“Such a good teammate and a good friend in four months,” Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said of Pederson, who the Cubs signed this past offseason. “His vibe and everything he brought to the team every day was just fun and upbeat and energetic. He was a good person to have around. Good moral.”
Rizzo said he found out about Pederson’s trade like everyone else – on the internet and through texts. Cubs outfielder Ian Happ woke up when the Cubs landed in Arizona Thursday to a text from his brother: “Too bad about Joc.”
Said Happ: “I was looking around the plane going, ‘What did we do?’”
When asked how they handle the looming trade deadline, players and coaches continue to fall back on the familiar “one day at a time” trope.
That seems easier said than done.
“It always is, right?” Happ said. “’One day at a time,’ whether you’re talking about something like that or hitting, or being eight games back.”
Even after a 5-1 win against the Diamondbacks Friday, the Cubs (45-46) were eight games back of the NL Central-leading Brewers (54-39). Before the game, Ross did his best to draw out the silver lining of the Cubs’ situation.
“I think there's a real positive that can be taken from the core group here and what they've created and expectations,” Ross said “The Javys (Javy Báez), the Willsons (Willson Contreras), the J-Heys (Jason Heyward), the Rizz, the KB (Kris Bryant) the Kyle Hendricks. Those guys have created championship expectations here. I think that's a positive, it's something that they can wear as a badge of honor and pride.”
The Cubs aren’t heading into the kind of 2012-style rebuild that predated much of that group. Hoyer’s made that much clear. But the starting rotation reinforcement that a month ago seemed to be the missing piece won’t be showing up. And some of the Cubs’ stars could be their most valuable trade chips.
“When your friends on the team get traded,” said Rizzo, who has been through selloffs before, “you know they’re going to a place where they’re wanted more and valued and they’re going to go compete for maybe something more. But it’s tough.”
This offseason, Pederson’s signing signaled added flexibility in the Cubs’ budget. It was almost fitting that his trade was the first domino to fall in the leadup to the deadline.
“It’s an opportunity for a guy like Ian Happ to step up, or Rafi Ortega or Jake Marisnick,” Ross said. “Another outfielder to even have a chance to be better than Joc was for us. I really believe that.”