As the Cubs’ selloff began last month, outfielder Ian Happ indulged a somewhat speculative interview in front of the first base dugout at Chase Field.
The Cubs had traded away Joc Pederson the day before. It was clear that more moves were coming. It wasn’t that eight more Cubs would be sent out before the deadline, including friends that Happ had played beside his whole big-league career.
This reporter prefaced a question about culture-building with: you guys probably won’t be competing for a World Series in the next couple years.
“I don’t think the Cubs are ever going to look at it like that,” Happ told NBC Sports Chicago. “If we get in a place where we’re not trying to compete for championships year in and year out, we’re not doing it right. That’s what the fan base deserves, what the city deserves, and I think as players in this organization for the last five to seven years, that’s what we expect, to be going out there with a team that’s capable of winning the World Series every year.”
So now, how quickly can the Cubs get back to meeting those expectations? An eight-game losing streak, as the Cubs try to piece together a post-deadline squad, raised the question again.
“We're playing shorthanded,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said Thursday. “And I think that's very clear. We're not going to be playing shorthanded going forward.”
The first part, as Hoyer said, is obvious. The Cubs traded away 1/3 of their active roster at the deadline, only receiving one healthy major-leaguer (reliever Codi Heuer) among a haul of prospects.
Second baseman Nick Madrigal (torn right hamstring), who the Cubs acquired along with Heuer from the White Sox, is out for the season. Infielder Nico Hoerner (right oblique strain) landed on the injured list days before the deadline. Star catcher Willson Contreras (right knee sprain) joined him on Thursday. The Cubs released veteran right-hander Jake Arrieta after his last start.
The second part of Hoyer’s analysis hinges on how he and his staff approach the offseason.
Hoyer has repeatedly said that this retooling won’t be along the same lines as the rebuild he and former president of baseball operations Theo Epstein pulled off when they first took charge of the Cubs front office a decade ago.
In order to avoid a 2012-style rebuild, the Cubs have to add a major-league impact player this offseason, right?
“Sure,” Hoyer said in Colorado last week, reluctant to detail the Cubs’ path forward with the current collective bargaining agreement expiring after this season.
Asked Thursday if he was hopeful the experience of these last two months of the season wouldn’t be indicative of what’s coming next year, Cubs manager David Ross said: “I think that's going to be evident.”
Keeping that promise carries implications beyond the major-league squad. Prolonged mediocrity has a way of impacting the kind of organizational championship mentality that Happ talked about.
“This organization has a lot of pride in the players that are still here,” Ross said. “Just a lot of guys that hold themselves to a high standard. There's a young group here that is talking about being the next championship-caliber team. That's the mindset that we have to continue to have and continue to push moving forward and find those moments to teach and get better and areas to work on.”
In the meantime, the next couple months will continue to be a casualty of a productive deadline with a focus on the future.
“My guess is that we'll find some interesting things over the next two months,” Hoyer said. “But those will be probably individual, one-off things that we can use going forward. And it's exciting to let these guys have opportunities to play and to prove that.”
Discerning Cubs fans will have Justin Steele’s continued role in the rotation, and Keegan Thompson’s impending addition, to hold onto. They can get excited about the development of two young relievers with closer potential, in Heuer and Manny Rodríguez. They can track debuts and dream on which position players might be a part of the next core.
There will also be a lot more nights like the Cubs’ 17-4 loss to the Brewers on Thursday, the final blow as the Cubs suffered their second straight series sweep.
The Cubs’ overall message to fans is, this is temporary. Or, as Hoyer put it when asked about this offseason: “Our desire is to compete.”
Oh, and don’t mention the benefits of continuing to lose this season (better draft position) to Ross.
“The reaction to that is words I can't say,” Ross said. “Tell them, come sit next to me in the dugout and see how that feels.”
Gordon Wittenmyer contributed to the reporting of this story.