Column: Jed Hoyer is in the spotlight as the Chicago Cubs — with their ‘Big 3’ on the free-agent clock — exceed expectations in his 1st year as president

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·6 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

One of the more interesting developments of the Chicago Cubs’ seven-game West Coast trip happened before the games were played.

In separate interviews in San Francisco and San Diego, Cubs stars Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant candidly pointed out that the Ricketts family could sign all of the Big 3 free agents — Rizzo, Bryant and Javier Báez — if they so desire.

“Absolutely they can,” Rizzo said Friday at Oracle Park. “The game is thriving with all the TV deals, the revenue (streams). If that’s their out, and it’s time to go, so be it.”

Bryant agreed with his friend and teammate when asked Monday at Petco Park about Rizzo’s assessment, saying the Cubs were “doing well” financially.

“So theoretically, yes, you can sign whoever you want,” Bryant said. “It’s just a matter of if they want to continue with us or go a different way. They’ve got some money.”

The only one who didn’t chime in was Báez, who did not respond to interview requests made through the team.

With seven weeks remaining until the July 31 trade deadline, the tension mounts regarding the futures of the Big 3. And with Wrigley Field opening to 100% capacity starting Friday afternoon against the St. Louis Cardinals, the money faucet will begin flowing freely again for a team that annually has one of the highest average ticket prices in baseball.

For Cubs fans with a realistic view on things, the best-case scenario is probably getting two of the three signed to long-term extensions after the season. Assuming Rizzo is one of the two because his age makes him more affordable and he has the longest tenure of any Cub, that likely means having to choose between Bryant and Baez.

Both are having bounce-back seasons, with Bryant on the short list of early MVP candidates and Báez among the National League leaders in home runs (14) and RBI (39) while earning plaudits for his baseball IQ with the memorable baserunning play last month in Pittsburgh.

What has complicated matters is the surprising success of the first-place Cubs, the only team in the NL Central — and at plus-33 one of only five teams in the National League — with a positive run differential. They’re also 9-4 against the NL West, showing they can compete with the top teams.

With a potentially long playoff run at stake, team President Jed Hoyer will be under the microscope in the coming weeks as he tries to keep one eye on the present and one on the future. The closer the Cubs get to the deadline, the more difficult the decisions Hoyer will have to make.

If Bryant, Báez or Rizzo flees after the season without the Cubs getting anything in return but draft compensation, Hoyer will have sacrificed an opportunity to get multiple pieces for the future to be in a win-now mode in 2021. He went in the opposite direction over the winter, seemingly hurting their chances this year by trading ace Yu Darvish to the Padres for Zach Davies and four low-level prospects.

But somehow the Cubs not only have survived without Darvish, they’ve become a better team.

The clubhouse chemistry is much improved, fill-ins such as Patrick Wisdom, Matt Duffy and Sergio Alcantara have ably stepped into their roles and eccentric personalities such as Joc Pederson and Andrew Chafin have provided some much-needed levity in the dugout and bullpen.

None of Hoyer’s offseason moves made a splash, but this team has an eerie resemblance to the “Boys of Zimmer,” the 1989 Cubs team that played over its head all season and somehow won the National League East under manager Don Zimmer.

What can Hoyer do to make his first year as president an unqualified success? Get them into October, for starters.

Reminded on Tuesday of some of the past trade-deadline maneuverings by former President Theo Epstein, manager David Ross laughed.

“The one thing I’d say about that is guess who doesn’t work here anymore,” Ross said, referring to Epstein. “Alright? So why not give the front office a new chance with a new president, right?

“Give everybody a new shot. I’m new. Give me a new shot. Let’s give these guys a new shot, under me and 162 (games), and under Jed. I’d like to think maybe we can impact things a different way.

“I don’t know if that can be true or not … but give (us) a clean slate and see what happens.”

Hoyer is in a new role, but he’s not exactly a fresh face. He was general manager for the last 10 seasons, earning partial credit for bringing the Cubs a championship but also some of the blame for failing to draft and develop pitching talent. He has been less visible than Epstein in his new role, though part of that can be attributed to the COVID-19 protocols that have prevented the media from accessing the playing field and talking with players, coaches and executives without the limitations of conference calls.

Those rules were relaxed last week. Hopefully, Hoyer will soon be available to provide his perspective on the direction of the Cubs during an old-fashioned, face-to-face media scrum at Wrigley Field.

Epstein and Hoyer were a collaborative team, even as one of them received the bulk of the credit. (Hint: It was not Hoyer).

Epstein made the right decision in resigning before the final year of his contract so Hoyer, his heir apparent, could make his own decisions without his longtime boss looking over his shoulder. Hoyer has yet to bring in his own GM to collaborate with, so this is all his baby for the time being.

The futures of Bryant, Báez and Rizzo will be a storyline for the rest of the season. There’s no getting around that. Closer Craig Kimbrel, who has returned to his dominant form, also will be in demand if the Cubs decide to look toward the future at the deadline. Kimbrel has a $16 million club option in 2022 that vests with 55 games finished. Entering the weekend he has 21 games finished and is on pace to finish 55 games.

Bryant, Rizzo and Kimbrel all said in interviews last week that baseball is a business, they’re not concerned with the deadline and as long as the Cubs keep winning, that’s all that matters.

But they’re still human. Not knowing if these could be the final weeks of their Cubs careers has to be in the back of their minds.

The “reopener” is here, and Wrigley will be packed this weekend for one of the best rivalries in sports.

If you see some of the Cubs players looking around and taking it all in, you’ll know why.