When the 2019 Major League Baseball offseason began I think the majority of Chicago Cubs fans were optimistic about how things would go. The past few years had seen the team spend big in areas where they needed to improve while at the same time the front office dangled the carrot of a major signing come the 2019 offseason. Everyone decided the aforementioned carrot was going to be Bryce Harper. It was practically written in stone that he would play on the North Side in 2019. Cubs fans placed all their eggs in the Harper basket and when that basket was mashed, mauled, and thrown into the trash bin Cubs fans were left a little shook.
It wasn’t just the Harper misfire that was the issue, it was the complete inability of the front office to address the obvious needs of the team. Many articles had been written by men and women much savvier than I about the need for the team to get another big bat. From 2017 through the end of 2018 the Cubs offense had struggled with key players showing visible signs of regression. The offense that was sent home in the 2018 National League Wild Card Game simply would not pass muster in 2019.
As the offseason wore on the dream of Harper stayed alive. Some fans even dreamed bigger and thought the Ricketts Family, owners of the Cubs, would spend some of their considerable profits on Harper and another free agent like Manny Machado. At the very least one of those generational talents would end up on the team. They had to, after all, 2019 was the promised offseason to end all offseasons. Harper didn’t happen, nor did Machado, and Cubs fans had to try and deal with journeyman utility infielder Daniel Descalso and possibly still good reliever Brad Brach being the only “big” signings the team would make.
It’s safe to say that those signings have been letdowns, if not outright failures.
Brach is showing signs of turning things around, and his season numbers aren’t all that bad. A DRA of 4.22, DRA- of 87.5, and K/9 of 10.3 aren’t the signs of a completely washed out reliever. Still, fans remember Brach more for his sudden inability to throw strikes that lasted much of the first two months of the season. How he suddenly developed a career-worst, in a season as a regular, BB/9 of 6.6 remains a mystery.
Descalso was signed on the basis of one good season with the Arizona Diamondbacks and he has repaid the Cubs for their generosity by being one of the worst players in all of MLB this year. A slash line of .187/.285/.273 and a DRC+ of 64 aren’t going to work whether he’s starting or on the bench. Descalso keeps getting playing time though, mainly because the Cubs refusal to adequately address their needs in the offseason has left them with too many holes in a lineup and no answers for said holes.
They’ve tried to give the once great Carlos González a try, but he has failed to produce any better with the Cubs than he did with the Cleveland American League ballclub. The bullpen has been a rotating sea of arms that can’t quite get the job done. They did sign Craig Kimbrel and that will undoubtedly help a pen that was in need of a boost. Meanwhile, Addison Russell, Albert Almora Jr., and Descalso are being counted on to provide offensive production when they are wholly incapable of such a thing.
The front office refuses to deviate from their roster. Maybe in the case of Brach that will turn out to be a good thing. If his recent turnaround is legit he will help to make a now good bullpen even better. However, continuing to run González, Almora, Russell, and Descalso out there game after game while keeping Ian Happ, Robel Garcia, and Trent Giambrone in the minors make no sense. In fact, it comes across like a front office that has become too stubborn and set in their ways for their own good.
As a result of these shortcomings, the Cubs are turning to the trade market. They are scouting players like Whit Merrifield, Will Smith, Tony Watson, Mychal Givens, and assorted outfield bats. They never needed to be in this place, if only the team’s ownership would have been willing to part ways with a few shekels from their Scrooge McDuck replica vault in Nebraska. But, that’s not the reality that the Ricketts decided to create.
All this means is that instead of shopping for that one bat or arm to help them win a pennant, the Cubs are shopping for a mishmash of ingredients to help them stay in the playoff hunt. Sometimes we hold our prospects too closely, but other times we are right to be upset when the cheapness of ownership and miscalculations of a front office have made it where prospects that should be safe no longer are. No matter the end result the process put in place by Cubs ownership and the front office in 2019 has been damaging to the on-field production this year and most likely for years to come.
Lead photo courtesy of Nuccio DiNuzzo – Getty Images