As a Cubs fan, it’s hard not to base your idea on what success looks like on the only team in the last 120 years to be successful: The 2016 team. That team was built with offense first, and specifically built around the infield. Their top prospects that became major league contributors were almost all offensive with the only real exception being Kyle Hendricks.
Based on that design for success, if you squint you can make the trade of OF Zyhir Hope and LHP Jackson Ferris for INF Michael Busch and RHP Yency Almonte work. The Cubs turned a lottery ticket high school outfielder and a lottery-ticket high school pitcher into a bullpen piece that can help now and a young, cost-controlled option at third base to pair with their expensive double-play combo of Nico Hoerner at second base and Dansby Swanson at shortstop.
That being said, the 2016 team set a standard that the 2017 team tried to follow up with a short-sighted move in trading for a cost-controlled pitcher in the form of the Chicago White Sox lefty Jose Quintana. They moved OF Eloy Jiminez and RHP Dylan Cease in that deal and proceeded to get next to nothing in terms of production from Quintana over the next several seasons. Trading for high-potential arms for cost control is not a guarantee for success.
The Cubs should have been a playoff team last season. They entered August with a greater than 90% chance to be a playoff team and choked it away due to poor management of the bullpen by David Ross and poor construction of that bullpen by a conservative General Manager in Jed Hoyer. This trade, while it nets a potential cornerstone in the Cubs’ lineup for years to come, does not offset the lack of movement that Hoyer has made this offseason to improve this roster.
Signing LHP Shota Imanaga is a win. However, when paired with the swing and miss on other more known quantities such as Tyler Glasnow and Aaron Nola, or the higher upside of Yoshinobu Yamamoto, or even the return of a fan-favorite like Marcus Stroman, it is at best a net-neutral signing when comparing the 2024 rotation to the 2023 rotation.
Trading for Michael Busch to avoid paying the premium associated with Matt Chapman, and Yency Almonte so that Hoyer can continue his practice of refusing to hand multi-year deals to relievers is not a win.
Giving up a potential generational pitching prospect, just as the system has shown signs of being able to develop that pitching is not a win.
Finally, giving that pitching prospect to a National League rival that will need cheap pitching in the years to come due to their willingness to spend this offseason, as the Cubs continue to pinch pennies as if they are a small-market team, is absolutely not a win.
Here’s hoping Michael Busch is Kris Bryant reincarnate, but in a few years if Jackson Ferris looks like Clayton Kershaw in Los Angeles, the smug joy that I’ll get as I say “I told you so,” will do nothing to soak up the tears that I’ll cry.