How long will it take to build the next Cubs contender?

Cubs president Jed Hoyer doesn’t believe this rebuild will be as long a process as the previous one was. There’s precedent that backs him up.

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Jed Hoyer and David Ross will be in talent evaluation mode for the rest of the 2021 season.

Jed Hoyer and David Ross will be in talent evaluation mode for the rest of the 2021 season.

For the Sun-Times

DENVER — The Cubs’ season has quickly changed following their moves at the trade deadline, and the team is now using this season to evaluate for the future. As the focus has now shifted from this season to 2022 and beyond, figuring out what the team’s game plan is going forward will be the next step.

It’s not a question of if the Cubs are in a rebuild, the moves at the trade deadline show that they are. The real question is how long. While president Jed Hoyer doesn’t want to put a timeline on the Cubs’ next chapter, he feels his team is in a better place than it was when he and Theo Epstein arrived in 2012.

“I never want to be disingenuous and say, ‘Here’s the exact plan,’ when the fact is you can’t really lay out an exact plan when there are so many things that are uncertain in front of you,” Hoyer said. “Which is really what I want to say.

“This is not going to be a 2012-13 situation in any way. I think that we’re going to be looking to compete right away. But what exactly does that look like? I think that we want to make sure that the goal here is to build the next great Cubs team.”

What makes the Cubs difficult to evaluate right now is that they won’t be able to really start making their moves in their new direction until the offseason.

If the Cubs don’t believe their rebuild will take four years like last time, it will require some creativity both in the free-agent market and in the trade market to make that happen. Acquiring young players in their recent trades should help them with that. Fortunately for them, there’s precedent of that model having success.

The Boston Red Sox won 97 games in 2013 en route to a World Series title, but lost 91 games the following season, finishing last in the AL East. After going through a “retool” of their own in 2015 and hovering near .500, they returned to being a true title contender, winning 93 games in 2016 and 2017 before capturing the World Series again in 2018.

The Red Sox had some of their highly touted prospects turn into stars — and in the case of Mookie Betts, a top-three player in the game — but they’ve always shown a willingness to spend money. The Cubs should have the ability to do the same and dominate the division from a financial standpoint. But unlike Boston, they haven’t shown the willingness to do that in recent seasons.

The Cubs will have a payroll of $41 million going into next season and they’ll have financial flexibility that they haven’t had in several years. Even with a new CBA coming this winter, there’s no excuse for them not to buy this offseason.

“We have the ability to be opportunistic, and we have the ability to pivot if things come up,” Hoyer said. “We don’t know exactly the rules of the game going forward. So I think that’s important. I think ultimately people need to know this isn’t a 2012-2013 situation. This isn’t a long rebuild.”

In just a few days since the departures of Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Javy Baez, it’s clear there are several areas of improvement at the major-league level that will need to be ironed out before the start of the 2022 season.

The process to make that happen has officially begun.

“The legacy of this group, ultimately, is that we changed the expectations here. [Being OK] would have been perfectly acceptable before,” Hoyer said. “To compete for a wild card was okay. Now they want to see ’15, ’16 and ’17 again and that’s what we owe these fans now.”

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