Jed Hoyer knows the drill.
When the Chicago Cubs hit a new low, the team president gathers reporters together to defend the manager, his game plan and the organization as a whole.
Theo Epstein did it more than a decade ago, praising manager Dale Sveum, the rebuild and the Rickettses during the 2012 and ’13 seasons, before whacking Sveum after two years on the job.
On Thursday it was Hoyer’s turn to defend the job performance of manager David Ross, praise the rebuild that can’t be called a rebuild and ensure fans the Cubs remain on the right path. He did so for more than a half hour in the home dugout at Wrigley Field before a game against the San Diego Padres as the Cubs tried to end a brutal nine-game losing streak.
It was a difficult task for Hoyer. Eleven months after selling off his biggest stars and embarking on a new and less expensive path, the Cubs are worse off than they were before the 2021 trade deadline. They began the day only a half-game ahead of the lowly Cincinnati Reds, and were going through one of the worst nine-game stretches in franchise history, including being outscored 61-15 over the last five losses.
But after listening to Hoyer suggest things were progressing OK before the losing streak, I could only shake my head. How could anyone buy that narrative after what they’ve seen in 2022?
“I didn’t say I had a sense (of how long),” he said of the timetable for competing. “I have a sense of how to build the next great team and where we want to go. I didn’t give you any sense of timing. I don’t have a feel for that.”
Sorry, but haven’t the Cubs regressed from last season when it comes to seeing that “next great Cubs team” come to fruition?
“This is a frustrating moment in time,” Hoyer said. “Whether we feel that way in a month or two months, I don’t know. Right now, certainly… Listen, the frustration that’s in your voice is probably the frustration that is in everyone’s voice over the way we’ve played. I’d say candidly. I felt like we were battling and really competing through (June 10). Our record in one-run games was certainly well below average, and our run difference was like -10, which is really competitive.
“Obviously that’s really changed over the last five days. I’m trying mentally, obviously what we’ve seen since Saturday (an 8-0 loss to the New York Yankees), that’s been a real struggle and really frustrating that our bullpen that was really good has struggled, and we haven’t been able to prevent any runs. But try to remember, prior to that we were battling.”
Battling is fine when you’re a small market team with low ticket prices. It doesn’t cut it when you’re a big market team still charging among the highest ticket prices in the game. If I sounded “frustrated,” my apologies to Hoyer. I meant to sound disgusted.
Asked by another reporter if the Cubs timeline feels further away than when the season began, Hoyer said he would “have a better answer for that later in the season,” citing injuries.
“Even from a record standpoint, even before this stretch, we weren’t where we want to be,” he said. “You’re asking me to make some pretty global statements based on that.”
With the Cubs falling so far and so fast, most fans believes Willson Contreras is as good as gone. Being so far from contending means the Cubs probably have no choice now but to trade him to get something of value before he likely leaves as a free agent.
“That’s not something I’m going to answer,” Hoyer said.
Hoyer also declined to discuss whether he’s spoken with Contreras about his future. Contreras and Kyle Hendricks are the only players who could bring some real value in return, especially with Marcus Stroman out with right shoulder inflammation.
Hoyer said Stroman would be back “fairly soon.” But Stroman hasn’t even begun playing catch, so how soon could that be?
“We’ll know more once he throws,” Hoyer said.
“I don’t know,” Hoyer said. “Hopefully weeks.”
As for Ross’ status, Hoyer said the third-year manager has done a “great job,” and he doesn’t “see any issues with (Ross) whatsoever.”
Epstein said much the same about Sveum in 2013. The difference is Hoyer’s close relationship with Ross, whom he signed to an extension before the season.
Hoyer’s most prominent moves since the summer sell-off haven’t worked out so far. Stroman and Seiya Suzuki, his two biggest free-agent signings, are on the injured list and were inconsistent at best when healthy. Nick Madrigal, acquired from the White Sox in the Craig Kimbrel deal, is out again with a groin injury and hasn’t hit when healthy. Wade Miley has pitched well but made only four starts and has thrown 19 innings between stints on the IL.
The biggest positives have been Contreras’ season, Christopher Morel’s emergence and Keegan Thompson’s performance before moving into the rotation.
“I have all the confidence in the world we’re going to get there,” Hoyer said. “But sometimes things speed up, and sometimes things slow down. I’m not smart enough to know when something is going to happen, but I do know, and have the ultimate confidence, that we’re going to be successful. I knew that same thing last time.”
Hoyer quoted Epstein’s clichéd remark that “things are not linear,” meaning every plan goes through ups and downs rather than a slow, steady progression. He said he speaks with Chairman Tom Ricketts “all the time” about the state of the team, and that everyone has “questions” about why the Cubs are struggling as much as they have.
“Those are questions I’m up late at night asking as well,” he said.
Whoever is listening must be shaking their head.