By its very definition, a rebuild is designed to allow a general manager and the people who pay him to push back judgments on their work. And then there is the Cubs’ new out-front mastermind, Jed Hoyer, who is advancing the notion that if you do the right deal for the right set of pre-schoolers, no trade can ever be evaluated until everyone involved in it has been re-traded, retired, or died.
In short, Hoyer is taking the Sam Hinkie model—judge me on my ability to shovel out the stable rather than the horses with which I might refill the stable later—and ratcheting it up yet another notch or two. That’s a new level of inside baseball, with the inside being hell.
The trade, in which the Cubs sent Darvish and his personal catcher Victor Caratini (total salaries $60.4M, $59M of which is Darvish) to San Diego for starter Zach Davies and four prospects: shortstop Reginald Preciado, outfielder Owen Caissie, outfielder Ismael Mena and shortstop Yeison Santana (total salaries Davies’s $8.5 million, plus however many Tootsie Roll Pops it takes to keep the four prospects alive), has been hailed largely as a fine get for the Padres, who are for one of the rare times in their squalid history full-tilt going for it. The Cubs for their part shed $51.9 million, none of which fans will ever see, let alone root for in any meaningful way unless they do freelance work for a bank.
That’s an easy trade to evaluate, and right now. The Cubs are cutting the amount of money the Ricketts family intends to give to their players by as much as they can get away with without their fans walking in disgust to the South Side to watch the White Sox, or more compellingly, up to Minneapolis. All they really have to do is get rid of Davies, Jason Heyward, Anthony Rizzo, Craig Kimbrel, and Kyle Hendricks to have what seems to be their ideal scenario of a roster with nothing but arbitration and pre-arbitration players.
But since nobody thinks Zach Davies for Yu Darvish is a reasonable exchange in and of itself, Hoyer is telling us about the four others and how we cannot possibly evaluate the deal because Preciado is 17, Caissie and Mena are 18, and Santana is 20 with a year of hitting .346 in the Arizona Rookie League. Naturally, Preciado is considered the best prospect because he is probably further from beginning his career. It is pretty well understood by now that the game for Hoyer here is to explain why laypersons cannot possibly know how or if this is a good deal for the Cubs, because to figure it out is to see that the Ricketts family’s plan is to reduce overhead, which is not something you can put on the front page of the paperless 2021 media guide. What you can put there is,”The Padres Are Having Fun, And You’re Not,” though how that would sell merchandise and engender loyalty is far more difficult to see.
Trading Darvish is not necessarily an outrage. He’s expensive, he’s aging, and finishing second in the NL Cy Young voting in a 38-percent season is not the same as doing it in a big-boy season. And let’s be honest; if you were part of the Johnny Manziel fan-controlled football league, you’d probably make this kind of a deal on the basis that “I don’t have that kind of jack.” We expect better of our billionaires, but they didn’t get to be billionaires by paying people for their labor at the rate that they promised.
But it’s the sell job that’s offensive. The very idea that Hoyer tells us a salary dump cannot be evaluated for years also bakes into it the very real probability that in four years nobody is going to care at all. If Darvish is still pitching at age 37, he will have gotten another contract and gotten one year closer to being the next Bartolo Colon, which anyone should find appealing on its face. If 2023 is his last year in baseball, the heavy odds are that by then nobody is going to remember any of the members of the Cubs’ version of the Jonas Brothers, or even Zach Davies.
In other words, Jed Hoyer, who is new to the Cubs’ top job but not to the game, is telling you cannot possibly evaluate the Yu Darvish trade now, and almost certainly ever, when in fact you can. And here it is:
The Ricketts family saved 50 million bucks.
True, you can’t put that money on your fantasy team, or go to Wrigley Field or watch on your favorite device (a phrase that always makes me think of a nose hair trimmer), but the Cubs aren’t here for you. And I see Jed Hoyer’s next mandated salary dump and can hear him say to Bob Nightengale, or Jeff Passan, or one of the other free-range baseball bloviators still allowed to roam, “Well, you can’t really evaluate this trade for years because the two toddlers and the zygote we picked up don’t have much of a professional track record yet.”
But we will have that media guide cover: “Cubs 2021: You Can’t Tell Us We Suck Because Teenagers.”