Morning Cubs Roundup: Not with a bang but a whimper

Anthony Rizzo

Anthony Rizzo

Last Game: Marlins 2, Cubs 0

Up Next: Building a new team for a new year, hopefully, each better than the last.

I admit, I approached yesterday's game with an inescapable feeling of ennui. I usually count myself among the hopeful. Even when I know a loss is likely I generally avoid becoming fatalistic. Maybe the grind that is 2020 had just worn me down. Or maybe it was just obvious, inevitable. This team, this world this core created, would not end with a bang...

Such an end fit the narrative for not just this season, but for the unfulfilled promise of a potential dynasty with this core. They succeeded at such a young age, it was easy to believe greater heights were ahead. Instead, 2016 was the peak, and because the ascent had been so sudden, we were unprepared for the gradual downward trajectory ever since.

For one October, the core pieces fit. Bryzzo forming a foundation, Javy producing a flair for excitement, Willson emerging as an uber-talented addition to their collection of young talent, and then Schwarber capping it all off with his inspirational World Series comeback.

It happened once, why not again? Why not many agains?

Sure, Javy became a better player after the World Series win. Even this year, we saw Willson Contreras vastly improve his greatest defensive flaw into a real strength. Individual parts made strides, but the whole... never seemed to progress. Or never seemed to mesh.

It became clear since 2016, that as great as their talents may be, their flaws were too similar. They didn't make enough contact. They were too prone to hitting the ball on the ground when they did put the ball in play. They were too susceptible to the same types of pitches. Opposing pitchers could gameplan for all of them in the same manner. And once they found their footing against one, it was easy to get into a groove against the whole group.

The offense broke.

And because of the organization's failure to develop their own pitching, they began trading away an entire wave of new young hitters to fill that hole. Those hitters would have offered an opportunity to change the offensive ingredients. Instead, the Cubs kept baking the same the cake from the same recipe, and expecting different results.

And now, here we are: Heading into an offseason were change has to occur, but under the worst circumstances over the past five winters to accomplish it. The core is banged up, physically and psychologically. Older, more expensive, and nearly out of team control. And though the situation could not be predicted, the trade market for players a year away from unrestricted free agency is probably the worst it has ever been.

In the midst of a pandemic which almost certainly will extend throughout the 2021 season and further impact revenues, many teams will prefer to bargain hunt on the free agent market while hording their cost controlled prospects as they weather the uncertain economic future. A couple of teams may get bold and look to boost their team by acquiring a Kris Bryant or Kyle Schwarber for a one year rental, but the Cubs won't be only teams looking to unload such players either.

This front office faces its greatest challenge. They've spent the last two years desperately attempting to restructure and play catchup with the organizations who more quickly embraced the current leading trends in the industry. I applaud them for realizing their mistake, and I no longer feel like they are falling behind, but there is still ground to make up.

The pitching infrastructure is improving at a faster pace than the hitting. That is great to see, and long overdue. They showed it with the way they were able to identify and squeeze value out of their budget bullpen additions this season. Also with the way Alec Mills and Adbert Alzolay filled in for their injured veteran starters. They helped many of the guys develop new pitches or tweak existing repertoires. And just as important, after years of failure developing low ceiling/high floor college arms, the higher ceiling pitchers they began to focus more heavily on drafting the last couple of years will begin trickling into the upper Minors and Majors.

I have some hope on that side.

It is far more difficult to gauge where the Cubs stand with their hitting infrastructure. Outside of Ian Happ and Jason Heyward we haven't seen much in the way of improvement at the Major League level. Many guys have regressed, in fact. And even in the cases of the two outfielders it has been more of return to previous levels after they had fallen off.

Much the same goes at the Minor League level. I love the complete overhaul they managed to accomplish with Brennen Davis, but there haven't been many other recent success stories. Of course, the picture is also cloudied by the fact that the organization lacks much in the way of high ceiling bats in their system after the years of trades to sustain the pitching inventory at the MLB level.

What is clear, is that this front office cannot side idly by again this offseason. They can't fix what's wrong by adjusting the fringes of the roster like they have the last two years. If I return to the recipe metaphor from earlier, they've been trying to change the cake by replacing the icing on it each year. But it is the batter (I swear this was an unintended pun) which needs to be adjusted.

I don't envy them their task.

Filed under: Morning Cubs Roundup

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  • Wow, that puts everything in perspective in a nutshell.

  • One of your best MLB pieces yet, Michael. Spot on.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    Thank you, sir.

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    In reply to rbrucato:

    Agree completely. Failure to develop pitching greatly shortened cubs window. And well summarized Michael.

  • This is a very good summary Michael.
    I have a great deal of confidence in Tommy Hottovy and hope he continues with the organization for a long, long time. I’m hoping Adzolay will do the job next year as a reliable 3 or 4, in the rotation- with Mills as a spot starter. That would mean they’d have to go to the FA market for another 2/3 type starting pitcher and a bottom of the rotation type until help surfaces from within.
    The bullpen seems decent as long as Jeffress returns. Theo has done well finding these arms to fill the pen needs.

  • In reply to cubbustible:

    Thanks.

    Hottovy does appear to be a keeper. I do look for them to add two SPs, with Mills returning to swing role. One of those two may end up being a current starter returning on a cheaper deal.

    I'm not worried about the pen. They've shown some knack for patching it together, and I do think some young arms begin trickling up from Minors in 2021 to help reinforce. In regards to Jeffress, I actually lean more towards letting him go. Find the next Jeffress, not hope he can maintain his luck while paying him more.

  • Let me summarize what I put in my previous posts. We were deluded by the Cubs' early winning streak, which was a mirage since we were playing the easiest schedule in MLB.

    Case in point: The 7 Central Division teams in the playoffs all lost their initial (and final (;-) ) series. The cumulative record was Central 2, Opponents 14, with RS-44, RA=80.

    Now let's look at the Cubs records in the final stages of the 2019 & 2020 season and postseason (the final 12 games each year):
    2019 2-10 RS=44 RA=65 Cubs scored 0/1 run 2 times in 12
    2020 4-8 RS=36 RA=48. Cubs scored 0/1 run 7 times in 12

    In short the offense blows out bad pitching and is totally inept against good pitching. Plus, their 3-True-Outcome offense is incredibly boring to watch. I see a lot of talent, but talent that I fear is uncoachable.

    Good luck to Theo, Jed & Rossy in changing the team players and the team culture.

  • In reply to wthomson:

    "Coachability" isn't a word I have used much in regards to the hitters at the ML level, but it has crossed my mind several times over the last few years.

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    In reply to BarleyPop:

    These guys made their bones jacking. No way to coach them out of that at this stage. Too freeking many 2 outcome hitters (not 3 anymore) to sustain a rally or cheat a win from a good pitcher.

  • Nice work, Michael.

    I'm with you that this postseason wasn't even enjoyable for me, as this exact outcome seemed all but inevitable. I'm sure the overall environment played a role in that, but I don't think I would have been truly excited until possibly the NLCS.

    This offseason is beyond prediction. Everything, and I do mean EVERYTHING, is so muddled. You mentioned the uncertainty of the economic climate and what direction teams may or may not take regarding spending. I'll add this will be Theo's final year under his current contract. I'd be shocked if it isn't his last year here. This core of offensive players needs a major overhaul, but that's precisely the moves he has known had to be made but has shied away from doing. Does he begin a major re-tooling knowing this may be his last hoorah, or go with the status quo in the hope something clicks?

    I'm not even sure if the league has determined whether or not the luxury tax penalties will be enforced this year.

    There's usually a rough framework of what is likely to happen going into the offseason. We know who's leaving, what holes need to be filled, and we have a general idea of what money is available. The FA market is fairly set, and we have a ballpark guess on the acquisition cost in trade. All that is out the (I swear this is an unintended pun) window this year.

    I usually write more during the offseason, both to provide content during the slow times but more so to gather as much info as I can, for my own enjoyment, and to pass along my thoughts on what is likely to happen. I try to block out the noise and my own fandom to predict an accurate account of what to expect.

    This offseason will be a challenge.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    I think you pretty well nailed it; since 2016, these guys seem to be unteachable --- which is why they've gone through a succession of hitting coaches, including a fairly public rebellion against one of the best-respected ones.
    I also think that the decline in the pitching staff after Ross and then Montero left can be traced to Contreras' shortcomings in the pitch framing area (much improved, apparently, this year). Guys like Lester and Hendricks live --- and die --- on the edges

  • I am tired of hearing all the excuses (every year) but the fact is: all the teams went through 2020 with the same problems. In fact, most of them had even more problems due to Covid-19.

    The Cubs batters are, and have been, the most selfish and close-minded group in MLB, and as much as I like Rossy, that includes him. None of them have any idea of how to play teamwork on offense. They just refuse to change their approach no matter how bad it gets and Rossy goes right along with it. How many times has Rossy stated he goes along with the data on the back of each player's baseball card. SWING FOR THE FENCE NO MATTER WHAT! The opposite side of the infield is wide open but the Cubs continue to mostly go for their power and pull the ball right into the shift. Is there any other team as "Hard-Headed as them"?

    Bryant continues to swing up "to the Moon" because "it has always worked for him". The opposition sees his weaknesses, adapts and pitches accordingly.

    Rizzo chokes up on the bat with 2 strikes because he can make better contact. But before 2 strikes, he swings for the fence and pulls the ball into the shift.

    Baez just continues to "swing out of his shoes"! When he slows down and goes after the ball, he hits better but I guess he rather hit a HR so he swings as hard as he can and has no clue where the ball is pitched.

    All Schwarber has to do is make contact and snap his wrist to hit a HR to left field but he continues to try to mostly pull the ball right into the shift. Many times he doesn't even take his bat off his shoulder with 2 strikes because, I guess he is waiting for the right pitch that he can hit a HR.

    Obviously, these players all think they are HR hitters but, at best, they are just mediocre. They think they are better than they really are so why change?

  • In reply to clarkAddson:

    Could not agree with you more Clark. Only Zobrist and Rizzo played for the name on the front of their uniforms first.

  • Michael Ernst another season, & great articles!
    Hopefully you can still figure out a way to write about the minors this off season? Who is the breakout minor league player after this summer? Just kidding of course.

    I look at the positives for the Cubs, & Cubs need to play to their strengths.

    Cubs are a big market club, with loads of roster flexibility, great place to start.

    Cubs do not play in a powerhouse division with multiple other high revenue clubs.

    Cubs are not tied down with huge extensions given out to the core players, or free agents with years of commitments to players on the wrong side of 30.

    Cubs seem willing to carry a high payroll.

    Cubs seem willing to spend big on player development, scouting, & front office. Does anyone know if the Cubs actual are in the top ten teams on player development and scouting spending?

  • Ok, divide Theo/Jeds tenure into three three-year portions. Frankly, 18-19-20 have been the most unenjoyable as a fan. 15-16-17 were unreal, and except for the slump at the end off 17 might be near perfect. But frankly 12-13-14 were pretty fun. Let’s hope they get back to it — movement in the big leagues; asset accumulating trades; burgeoning talent in the minors. The hope/anticipation of the first portion is always better than the atrophy and resignation of the last three. Let’s hope they don’t need to take this down to the studs again, but it’s time to rebuild.

  • Also, the article was just perfect.

  • Terrific piece and definitely hits it on the head succinctly.

  • Just think where the cubs would be if the postseason in 2016 didn’t have a come-from-behind element in each series , they would still be the loveable losers.

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    Michael, you nailed it today. This team has individual talent but not collective team play and all are susceptible to the high FB. It's time for a change.
    I look at our farm system and we have a potential ace in Marquez, but as hard as he throw we saw equally hard throwers from Sanchez and Alcantara. Brennen Davis might be a quality player but he's at least 2 years away. I like the Howard signing, but he's probably 3 yrs away. We are supposed to sign the best SS prospect Jan 2 but he's only 16. I see all the other clubs have players signed in the 13 or 7 or 19 round come up to the Show and produce, where are ours.
    I don't want us to sign 2 SP because we ought to have them in our system now. That's were the money has gone. As well as Yu pitched this year, and he was one of the top 5 pitchers in baseball, it's taken him 3 years to get hear. Chatwood was getting better but he's been wild and hurt. Kimbrel, Kintzler, etc. We are spending millions on players that a good organization should be producing on its own. We seem to do best with IFA. I hope Gallardo can make it, he was the best prospect a few years ago, but about 4 or 5 years ago we were hampered because we overspent and couldn't really sign much talent.
    If we trade KB or Schwarber, and I know that this is the wrong time to do it, our scouting department has to come up with quality players, some that maybe the other teams don't value as much as we do. A Kyle Hendricks or a Ryne Sandberg. We have to do our due diligence this time.
    2020 has been a trying year in so many ways, but having baseball back was a start and was fun the first 16 games. It was fun to watch Hendricks and Darvish pitch, to watch Happ develop and JHey become a better hitter while continuing his GG level play. Willson's framing has become better and our overall defense was too. Our base running improved markedly, but our team couldn't hit with RISP and especially with the bases loaded or on 2nd and 3rd.
    I will be watching the playoffs. I want to see Tatis, Jr and Alcuna Jr and Gleyber Torres and all the other talent I don't get to see regularly.
    Thanks again Michael and all the other writers who have persevered during this trying time.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    There is a lot to peel back here. If we go back five years you can see one common theme. In my opinion, it started with Rondon not developing into the dominant closer we needed. His injuries and failures caused us to go get Chapman. That obviously cost us Gleyber Torres. Then instead of paying Chapman money we traded Jorge Soler for Wade Davis. And then the following year Brett Anderson and Eddy Butler could not develop into the 4 or 5 needed and Theo goes to get Quintana. Had we traded Russell or Baez for Chapman instead of Torres this could have been much different. Or Schwarber to the White Sox instead of Eloy. Or find another way to get Davis instead of trading Jorge Soler. Those hitters and their traits and characteristics are a heck of a lot better than what we ended up with. So the waves and waves of talent was traded away as we kept our experienced players. That obviously prevented this organization from reaching the long-term sustained success we all expected.

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