Commentary: Jed Hoyer deserves some blame
Charles LeClaire - USA Today Sports

Commentary: Jed Hoyer deserves some blame

by - Staff Writer -

As the Cubs' struggles continue and May nears an end, one wonders if they are squandering an opportunity to contend or if they are even serious about contention.

A season ago, the Cubs were far too patient with players like Trey Mancini, Tucker Barnhart, and Eric Hosmer, and ultimately, they took a lot of blame for their shortcomings during the season. On the pitching side, the Cubs stuck with Michael Fulmer as a closer for far too long and let Drew Smyly struggle as a starter every fifth day for a lengthy period. It sometimes made the Cubs feel like they weren’t serious about winning.

By the end of the season, Mancini, Barnhart, and Hosmer were no longer Cubs, Fulmer wasn’t a closer, and Smyly was in the bullpen — and the Cubs almost made the playoffs. After a narrow miss and a busy but not overwhelming offseason (resigning Cody Bellinger, signing Shota Imanaga, trading for Michael Busch), the Cubs seemed committed toward contention.

The Cubs left a bunch of winnable games on the table last season. In addition to creating more opportunities for their youth, the Cubs stole Brewers’ manager Craig Counsell for a record contract, believing that his prowess on the top step would help swing some of those winnable games in the Cubs’ favor.

This season’s storyline thus far for the Cubs has been injuries, but some of last year’s issues for the Cubs have reared their ugly heads in parallel scenarios. Adbert Alzolay and Jose Cuas, two of the Cubs’ most reliable pitchers down the stretch in 2023, have become borderline unplayable in 2024. Kyle Hendricks has been so below par this season that many think his career could be on the brink of ending. Catching duo Yan Gomes and Miguel Amaya have combined to be worse than Tucker Barnhart, whom they designated for assignment a year ago. Nick Madigral and Miles Mastrobuoni have provided next to nothing offensively and aren’t good enough defensively to warrant being on the roster.

Yet, players like Pete Crow-Armstrong, Alexander Canario, Luis Vazquez, and others have been called up and sent back down because the Cubs could not “find” them at-bats.

Meanwhile, Dansby Swanson and Ian Happ have regressed immensely, plus Christopher Morel’s development hasn’t taken the leap many expected. The Cubs’ top position player is currently Mike Tauchman.

When the Cubs are using Nick Madrigal as a pinch hitter, sending Pete Crow-Armstrong down to the minor leagues, or putting Kyle Hendricks out on the mound, sometimes it feels as if the Cubs aren’t serious about winning.

Sure, slumps happen—and the Cubs are in a lengthy one—but some of these issues could have been diminished if Jed Hoyer and the Cubs had done more to address their needs in the offseason.

The Cubs entered the offseason looking for answers at first base, third base, and centerfield — as well as more depth on the pitching staff.

The Cubs traded for Michael Busch to play first — but as we enter June, Busch is coming off a month where he hit .208 for two months and only has 21 ABS vs lefties. If it weren’t for a five-consecutive game streak with a homer, Busch would be a prime candidate to be moved to the bench or the minors. Patrick Wisdom is not playable unless against a lefty, and he is not good enough defensively at 1B to even be considered an earnest option here. The Cubs remain firmly in rumors for first basemen, as many anticipated Pete Alonso and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. could be available via trade.

The raw Christopher Morel was given the go at third base for the 2024 Cubs, and it has been a work in progress. Defensively, Morel has improved from terrible to below average — and at the plate, Morel leads the Cubs with nine home runs but is hitting below .200 on the season. The Cubs’ lack of confidence in Morel at 3B leads to Nick Madrigal coming in as a defensive replacement / occasional starter, and Madrigal has earned a negative WAR in 2024.

Matt Chapman was a name linked to the Cubs in rumors over the offseason. Chapman signed a contract similar to Bellinger’s, with one year for $20 million and an option for the year after with the Giants. So far, Chapman has already posted a 2.5 WAR with eight homers in 2024. I’m sure the Cubs would love his bat in this lineup almost as much as they would love having a platinum glover at third base and no more Nick Madrigal.

Morel figuring out 3B would give the Cubs so much roster flexibility at DH (Morel’s only other possible position). Still, Morel at DH with Chapman at 3B would better the Cubs immediately.

Cody Bellinger was signed for centerfield with the capable Tauchman as the Cubs fourth outfielder — plus a slew of outfield prospects awaiting their call-ups. It was a good move, but it made the Cubs as good as they were a season ago on paper. Signing Bellinger, of course, made sense, as the Cubs needed to replenish Bellinger’s production. The only problem is that the Cubs needed to do that AND THEN SOME to improve in 2024, and they fell short.

The Cubs signed Hector Neris for the bullpen in 2024, who has been solid so far. Neris has a 2.84 ERA and six saves since his promotion to the closer role. Instead of stockpiling bullpen arms, the Cubs elected to roll with Neris alongside Adbert Alzolay, Mark Leiter Jr, and Julian Merryweather — and right now, two of them are on the injured list, with another struggling. The Cubs have nine blown saves and 16 losses credited to relievers already.

It’s hard to give Hoyer the complete shoulder of the burden here, I mean who could have forecasted regression for every player in the lineup in addition to a record number of injuries this early in the season. Plus, at some point, you have to blame the players for not performing. Hoyer can’t preserve a lead from the pen or get the clutch hit; that’s not what he’s paid to do. The point is that if he and the Cubs did more in the offseason, some of these issues would not exist — and the Cubs would be in better shape.

Instead, Hoyer will have to improve this roster during the season. We’ll see if he’s up to the task.

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