Breaking Bad is widely considered to be one of the best television dramas ever created and one of its best episodes is titled “Half Measures.” In the penultimate episode of the third season, Walter White has a stunning moment of heroism, running down two murderous drug dealers with his car to save the life of his apprentice, Jesse Pinkman.
The enduring line from that episode comes from Mike Ehrmantraut, the grizzled former cop who tells a story of a battered woman and the husband who had beaten her. Mike took the man out to the desert and threatened to kill him, knowing all the while that he wasn’t going to go through with it. The husband promised to change and cried that he would never lay a finger on his wife again. Some time later, the wife ended up being killed by the husband.
“No half measures,” Mike says to Walter, hammering home the moral of his disturbing story.
I think about that line often because it can be applied in a lot of situations. Going halfway on anything will only find you stuck in the middle.
This moment in history feels like a turning point for the Cubs as a franchise, and not the Pat Hughes would point out to Ron Coomer. The 2021 Chicago Cubs are going to look somewhat similar to the teams that preceded them, but a new play-by-play voice will be entering the fray and key players will be missing. I can only hope they don’t end up being the modern version of the 2005 Cubs.
If you don’t recall that team, here’s a short history lesson. The Cubs hired Dusty Baker before the 2003 season and made a surprise trip to the NLCS. We don’t need to dive into what happened that October, but then-GM Jim Hendry followed that successful run by signing Greg Maddux and LaTroy Hawkins – among others – to go for it in 2004.
It didn’t exactly work out for them.
A spat between one broadcaster Steve Stone and some of the more thin-skinned players soured what would have otherwise been a leisurely tailspin in September, as Baker’s boys fell apart down the stretch and missed the playoffs. The following year saw the expulsions of the TV broadcasting duo of Stone and Chip Caray, who were replaced by Len Kasper and Bob Brenly. Sammy Sosa and Moises Alou were sent packing as well, only to be replaced by a woeful combination of Jeromy Burnitz, Jason DuBois, and Todd Hollandsworth.
But where Hendry went wrong with the ’05 team was running it back with basically the same roster, minus the 74 homers hit by Sosa and Alou the season before. And sure, things were derailed by Nomar Garciaparra tearing his groin and more injuries to Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. But the 2005 Cubs were never a true contender and by 2006, they were one of the worst teams in the league.
That ’05 Cubs team was a half measure. Hendry either needed to commit to improving the team and setting them up to compete with the Cardinals and Astros, or he needed to trade some of the players for prospects and start anew.
Why am I torturing you with these disturbing memories, you ask? I’m getting to the point, I swear.
The 2021 Cubs find themselves at a crossroads with only two viable options. With a few notable exceptions, the vast majority of the World Series championship team is gone. Although this team has disappointed us plenty over the last few years, the talent still exists. The best option, based only on roster implications, would be for Jed Hoyer to use this strange offseason to make improvements and put the Cubs in a position to not only win a weak division, but to contend for a World Series again.
The reality is that ownership was never going to let that happen, and you have every right to be angry about that. Tom Ricketts has made it painfully clear that shedding payroll is the edict and while he said that there wouldn’t be a teardown, he also doesn’t make the roster decisions. Ricketts is more focused on counting the pennies and telling anyone who will listen that they won’t be booing him next year.
If the Cubs aren’t going to compete in 2021, with so many players in their final year of team control and a handful of high-salary guys on the back ends of their careers, Hoyer has only one true option available.
That’s such an ugly word in relation to sports, but Hoyer really has no choice if he isn’t being given the resources to improve the team. Anything else would be a half measure, resulting in yet another mediocre season and once again pushing the hard decisions into the next winter of discontent. It’s no wonder Theo Epstein walked away when he did.
Yu Darvish was the player that made the most sense to trade, given his perceived value based on his performance since the 2019 All-Star break. And if winning isn’t an option in the immediate term, what do the Cubs need with a soon-to-be 35-year-old starting pitcher? As uncomfortable as it is, it’s the right move if it’s done correctly.
The problem? The trade doesn’t really align with what many believed to be Darvish’s actual value. And that’s not just the perception of Cubs fans, but of the industry in general.
Most felt the Blake Snell trade the Padres pulled off roughly 24 earlier should’ve — note, not should of — been a blueprint for a Darvish deal. It came nowhere close. Granted, Snell is a lot younger than Darvish and is making a lot less money over the next three seasons. Maybe the Padres felt Snell has a much higher ceiling than Darvish, who will turn 35 in August and who has missed significant time in his career due to arm injuries.
But that still doesn’t make it feel better to see the NL Cy Young runner-up traded – along with Victor Caratini, mind you – to San Diego for a No. 3 starter on a one-year deal and a handful of teenage prospects, none of whom were among the Padres’ top 10.
If this is the way the Cubs have chosen, it’s only going to get worse from here. They may not live in the cellar due to the awfulness that is the NL Central, but more players are going to be traded for more prospects as the front office sheds payroll and restocks the farm system. As unpopular as it will be, give Hoyer credit for embracing the challenge. He had no other choice.