Column: Like the weather in Chicago, the Cubs’ ‘buy or sell’ mode can change by the minute

15 July 2023

As one of baseball’s most prominent in-between teams, the sub-.500 Chicago Cubs have teetered between being buyers and sellers as the Aug. 1 trade deadline nears.

With a team that alternates between dominant stretches and periods during which they look like they’ll never win again, Cubs President Jed Hoyer faces enormous pressure deciding which way to go.

Buy? Sell? Stand pat?

Hoyer has been asked the same question for more than a month now.

“I don’t want this to be a day-to-day assessment-type thing,” Hoyer said Friday. “It’s baseball.”

Hoyer is absolutely correct. Obviously, a better way to approach the question of whether to buy or sell and the trade deadline would be an inning-by-inning assessment-type thing.

So here’s our inning-by-inning analysis of what Hoyer should do, based on Saturday’s 10-4 victory against the Boston Red Sox at Wrigley Field.

First inning: Marcus Stroman, the Cubs’ best trading chip, skates through a scoreless frame, allowing a two-out double. Hoyer, remember, is not afraid to deal quality starting pitching at the deadline. As San Diego Padres general manager in 2010, he sent pitching prospect Corey Kluber to Cleveland in a three-way deal that netted St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Ryan Ludwick. Kluber would go on to win two American League Cy Young awards. Ludwick would be sold to the Pittsburgh Pirates at the 2011 deadline. Gulp. Analysis: Sellers.

Second inning: Both teams go down in order. Cubs center fielder Cody Bellinger, Hoyer’s second most valuable trade chip, entered the game hitting .359 with four home runs and 11 RBIs since his return from the injured list on June 15. He flies out to right. Bellinger’s agent is Scott Boras, who probably already has prepared a 20-page report in a dark blue binder on Bellinger’s remarkable performance since the knee injury. Boras also is working on a bad pun on why contending teams will all want to binge on Belli bombs. Analysis: Sellers.

Third inning: After Stroman escapes a jam with an inning-ending double play, the Cubs put up a 6-spot against wild Red Sox starter James Paxton, who walks three men and hits a batter. Bellinger’s 414-foot grand slam, his third home run in two days, sends the crowd of 40,223 into a tizzy. It’s also the first ball to leave the infield by a Cubs hitter. The skies are darkening, but not for Hoyer. Analysis: Buyers.

Fourth inning: The sun peeks out as the Red Sox put a run across against Stroman and the Cubs answer with a two-run homer from Patrick Wisdom. The suddenly sunny outlook could remind Hoyer of the time Theo Epstein gave up his job as Red Sox general manager after the 2005 season to protest upper management interference and follow Pearl Jam on tour, leaving Hoyer and a few other underlings in charge. Hoyer and Co. acquired Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell from the Florida Marlins before Epstein changed his mind and returned as GM. Beckett led the American League with 20 wins in 2007, and Lowell was named World Series MVP that October. You’re welcome, Theo. Analysis: Buyers.

Fifth inning: During a scoreless inning, Hoyer could glance at the calendar app on his iPhone and note that Saturday was the second anniversary of the start of the Great Summer Sell-Off of 2021. On this date in Cubs history, Hoyer sent Joc Pederson to the Atlanta Braves for left-handed-hitting first-base prospect Bryce Ball. Pederson would earn a ring with the Braves in ‘21 and become a fashion plate by wearing a pearl necklace during games. Ball was demoted in May from Double-A Tennessee to High-A South Bend. He’s hitting a combined .214 with one home run this season. Analysis: Buyers.

Sixth inning: Stroman is in a groove and finishes his 91-pitch stint by retiring the final nine hitters he faces. He leads the majors with 15 quality starts and will likely make two more before the deadline to potentially increase his trade value. The Cubs are on cruise control. The only thing left is to beat the rain, which reminds Hoyer of Jason Heyward’s rain-delay speech during Game 7 of the 2016 World Series. Analysis: Buyers.

Seventh inning: Julian Merryweather, a 31-year-old reliever claimed on waivers from the Toronto Blue Jays, has enjoyed a career-best season and has not allowed a home run in his last 33 outings dating to April 17. Merryweather could bring back a decent prospect in return if Hoyer opts to make a minor move or two and keep Stroman and Bellinger. Triston Casas hits a monstrous two-run home run into the right-field bleachers. Never mind. Bellinger’s baserunning results in a rare 9-6-3-4-3-5 double play, but his trade value remains high. Analysis: Buyers.

Eighth inning: With a lopsided win playing out, Hoyer can channel his inner Yoda and remind himself not to get too high. He knows that it can all change Sunday with a loss in the series finale. The Cubs will remain seven games back of either the Cincinnati Reds or Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central by the end of their game Saturday night. There’s plenty of time to catch up. When Hoyer was GM in San Diego in 2010, his first year at the helm, the Padres held a six-game lead in the NL West in late August but missed out on the playoffs. Analysis: Buyers.

Ninth inning: Daniel Palencia, acquired from the Oakland A’s in 2021 in the deal for Andrew Chafin, closes out a 10-4 Cubs win. The sun comes out again as the fans sing “Go, Cubs, Go.” With Stroman and Bellinger having big days and the offense showing up, the Cubs look like a team on the cusp of something big. Hoyer can enjoy his Saturday night without tossing and turning over whether to sell or buy. The decision is obvious … at least until Sunday. Analysis: Buyers.


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