Cubs GM Jed Hoyer used one word to describe trade talks: “Nonexistent.” (For now.)
The Cubs won’t change direction after beating Adam Wainwright and the St. Louis Cardinals. But at least Friday’s 6-5 victory at Wrigley Field will give them two chances this weekend to finally win their first series this season.
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The Cubs have gotten bounce-back performances from core players Starlin Castro (.306 average) and Anthony Rizzo (.914 OPS). They caught lightning in a bottle with leadoff guy Emilio Bonifacio (.343 average, 10 stolen bases).
They keep getting good starting pitching – Travis Wood gave up two earned runs in seven innings against the Cardinals (15-15), again showing that last year’s All-Star invite wasn’t a fluke. They may have found a new closer in Rule 5 pickup Hector Rondon (0.63 ERA), who shut the door in the ninth inning.
Still, for all the things that have gone right, this is a 10-17 team already buried in last place, giving Theo Epstein’s front office no second thoughts about what to do at the July 31 trade deadline.
With a 1.98 ERA and zero wins to show for it, Jeff Samardzija is following Matt Garza’s advice: “Pitch your way out of here.” A major-league source said the Cubs haven’t seriously started digging into other teams’ farm systems yet this season, though they already have a baseline after shopping Samardzija over the winter.
“I certainly talk to a lot of GMs on a daily or weekly basis,” Hoyer said. “But having a GM call about a specific player? I’m not even sure I fielded one of those yet. Really, that trade talk always dies right at the end of spring training.
“Usually, it’s late May or early June until people sort of reconvene and start talking that way. Right now, the calls are mostly catching up and seeing how people are doing and keeping a dialogue but not specific at all.”
Jason Hammel’s fast start (4-1, 2.08 ERA) could be cementing his status as this year’s sign-and-flip guy. Darwin Barney’s Gold Glove could help a contending team looking to strengthen its up-the-middle defense. Lefty reliever James Russell and outfielder Nate Schierholtz – who already owns two World Series rings – could be role players in October.
The Cardinals don’t have this culture problem. But the Cubs have heard enough about the player-development machine in St. Louis, how high the bar is set in the National League Central and where this organization wants to go.
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“To be honest, I’m kind of sick of doing that,” said Rizzo, who blasted his fifth homer off Wainwright and drove in three runs. “With all due respect to that team – they’re a great ballclub – but we’re a pretty good team, too. It’s just about scoring runs when we have the opportunity.”
The next three months will be all about building value and collecting long-term assets. The Cubs hope ex-closer Jose Veras (oblique) will be able to begin a rehab assignment soon with Double-A Tennessee. The next move could be calling up another outfielder from Triple-A Iowa with Ryan Sweeney going for an MRI on his right hamstring.
It feels like Cubs fans have seen this movie before.
“Three consecutive years, we’ve kind of fallen on our face right out of the gate in April,” Hoyer said. “It’s really been kind of ‘Groundhog Day.’ It’s been closer issues in April. It’s been bullpen woes. All the years, we’ve had a better run differential and lost a lot of one-run games early. That’s been really frustrating. We should be better than our record. But, ultimately, you are what you are.”
The 2014 Cubs are no-doubt sellers.