Cubs fans used to be viewed as eternal optimists, a hive mind of high hopes and low expectations forever hanging its hat on next year. But once the team finally won, it was like Pollyanna went emo by dying her hair black and swapping the rose-colored glasses for dark shades. This team will never be good again, came the wailing refrain from a choir that doesn’t enjoy being preached to.
And hey, ownership and management have offered plenty of reasons to be skeptical of the process being employed in Wrigleyville these days. There’s no arguing with the fact that the product isn’t commensurate with either the cost or the expectations, and you get the sense the marketing department views fans as a bunch of gullible rubes who’ll lap up the latest marketing campaign because “It’s Different Here.”
Even with that in mind, only the willfully ignorant can dismiss the collection of talent the Cubs have in the minors right now. Jed Hoyer and his front office certainly need to thread the needle as they like to say, both in terms of continued development and in making the right trades involving some of those young players, but the potential is there for impact production.
“I think we’re close,” Marcus Stroman shared with the media recently. “A lot of that’s out of my control. Hopefully, we make a few moves. I think we have a great core group of guys, great young guys coming up that are going to make great contributions throughout a full year. But yeah, if we add a few pieces, I think we can compete in the division right away.”
There’s really no need to rehash all the possible free agent targets on Hoyer’s wish list, so let’s just say the Cubs will be in the market for an ace pitcher and a premium middle infield type. They may also look to add a defense-first game-managing catcher if Willson Contreras doesn’t accept the qualifying offer and/or the two sides don’t work out a new deal. Then you’ve got your typical additions around the fringes in addition to the likely promotions of Brennen Davis, Matt Mervis, and others.
Put that all together with the maturation of the less experienced members of the rotation and it isn’t difficult to envision a team capable of winning 85 games next season. Maybe not world-beaters by any stretch, but certainly good enough to compete for the division. It all comes down to how much money Hoyer has to spend, and his budget should be much larger this winter than it has been in the last few seasons.
He’s said on more than one occasion that it will be, a notion Tom Ricketts and the business operations folks have echoed more than once. Even if you don’t trust the owner any further than you can throw him, I think it’s notable that he’s been actively engaged on this topic of late. That hasn’t really been as much the case the Ricketts family canceled their annual ownership panel at Cubs Convention, though the whole event has been nixed each of the last two years.
While a big part of that is simply PR, I don’t think Ricketts would be so proactive in his approach if he was planning on taking the same low-budget tack this winter.
Setting aside any tea-leaf prognostication, the overarching point I’m trying to make is that Stroman is correctly saying the same thing a lot of us have said for some time now. The Cubs aren’t that far away and the right moves this offseason will put them in a very strong position to add further next year in an effort to build something more sustainable than what we saw a few years ago.