The Cubs face a much different rebuild this time than they did a decade ago.
The Chicago Cubs have signaled they need to do a reset, rebuild, or whatever you want to call it by their moves so far this offseason, which include non-tendering Kyle Schwarber and trading Yu Darvish and Victor Caratini to the San Diego Padres. There’s a clear need to shake things up after another disappointing finish to the 2020 season.
That being said, a lot of Cubs fans are thinking back to the 2011-2012 offseason, when the team began what many thought would be a long, painful rebuild back to contention. By 2015, the team was back in the postseason and, by 2016, they had taken home a championship.
We have to give a lot of credit to Theo Epstein and Co. for getting everything done so quickly, more quickly than many anticipated. However, what worked back then isn’t going to work now, and the task that Jed Hoyer has in front of him is much different than the one he and Epstein faced 10 years ago.
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In some ways, Hoyer’s situation is much more of a challenge. Hoyer had to make difficult non-tender decisions on Kris Bryant and Schwarber, deciding to keep the former while letting the latter go. Epstein had to let free agents such as Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena go for nothing, which upset some fans at the time but was an easy decision. The team had no business investing more in these players coming off a 71-91 season and in need of an overhaul.
This offseason, the team is coming off a 34-26 campaign in which they won a weak NL Central division. Trading Darvish away, which in many ways makes sense, is a much harder sell to a fanbase that has seen a taste of winning recently and has come to like it. Letting Schwarber go for nothing when they could have gotten more out of him also was a tough sell, though given the economic conditions of the team and the game right now, Hoyer obviously felt it was something that needed to be done.
Then there’s the trade situation. At least the Cubs got an established major league pitcher and some prospects for Darvish; the team gave up future two-time batting champion DJ LeMahieu in Epstein’s first year for a player that never reached the majors and Ian Stewart, who ended up being a big headache.
Over the next couple of years after that 2011-2012 offseason, Epstein would need to unload other players that he inherited such as Marlon Byrd, Alfonso Soriano, Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza, some of which he got some nice pieces in return for. He also hit on Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop when he was able to cash in on the Scott Feldman deal.
The Cubs won’t be making any big free agent signings this offseason, so Hoyer will have to work with what he has. Instead of trying to trade the older veterans like Epstein did, he has the task of potentially moving some of the core from the 2015-2017 winning years, many of whom are coming off rough seasons.
The Cubs still have a lot of nice pieces in a weak division and might not be in need of the total makeover they got back in 2011-2014, but Hoyer’s path to taking the team back to contention might be a lot bumpier. Epstein’s path, difficult though it was, was at least simple: Build the farm system, then add pieces a few years later when the team was close. Bringing in Joe Maddon to manage helped, too.
Hoyer has to retool a roster with a lot of difficult decisions on it, all while answering to a fan base that, as mentioned before, has become used to winning. It will be interesting to see what else he does this winter, but in any case, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.