Buyers or sellers? The Cubs are preparing for both trade-deadline possibilities

The Cubs’ play during the next couple of months will set the front office’s direction.

SHARE Buyers or sellers? The Cubs are preparing for both trade-deadline possibilities
Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer discussed the upcoming Aug. 1 trade deadline in Anaheim on Tuesday.

Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer discussed the upcoming Aug. 1 trade deadline in Anaheim on Tuesday.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP file photo

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer and his front-office team are preparing for two trade-deadline scenarios. When do they have to decide between being buyers and sellers?

‘‘End of July,’’ Hoyer said. ‘‘Honestly, I’d love to know sooner. I’d love to rattle off a long winning streak and feel like, ‘OK, all these questions are not going to be asked anymore.’ And that’d be the hope. Certainly not gonna make any decisions early.’’

If the Cubs had the same record (26-34) in another division, the calculus would be simpler. But even after a 7-4 loss Tuesday in the opener of a three-game series against the Angels, they are only 6½ games behind the National League Central-leading Brewers (33-28) — a timely hot streak away from making up significant ground.

‘‘It’s going to be hard to two-out-of-three our way to a really good place,’’ Hoyer said. ‘‘We’re going to have to, at some point, win a bunch of games in a row. And I think we have the pitching to do that. We’ve had consistent starts, which is usually the thing that leads to winning streaks. We just have to do it.’’

Two years ago, a losing streak made the decision for Hoyer, who traded away the Cubs’ championship core. Last season, the Cubs were still in a rebuild.

This season, the expectations are different. During the offseason, the Cubs showed they were opening their competitive window by signing a top free-agent shortstop in Dansby Swanson, a proven starter in Jameson Taillon and a former NL MVP looking for a launch pad after a few down seasons in Cody Bellinger.

Their roster isn’t a finished product. And if Hoyer is going to avoid the failings of the last cycle and deliver on his promise of sustained success, the Cubs need to continue to replenish their young talent. But committing resources to a playoff push would send a loud message to Cubs players and any future free agents.

If the Cubs were to trade a player such as right-hander Marcus Stroman, who is expected to hit free agency if they don’t extend him, they’re poised to receive a sizable return. Stroman (2.39 ERA) picked up his major-league-leading 11th quality start Sunday.

Because Stroman can opt out of his contract after this season, his representatives and the Cubs had preliminary extension talks this spring. He told the Sun-Times last month he would love to spend the rest of his career with the Cubs, but he also is confident in the interest he could garner in free agency. And if he continues to pitch this well, he’s headed for a robust payday.

‘‘He’s been everything we hoped for when we signed him,’’ Hoyer said. ‘‘We’ve enjoyed having him. We’ve given him the freedom to be himself, and he’s reciprocated that by pitching great.’’

The Cubs are expected to continue conversations with Stroman’s representatives about his future as the trade deadline draws closer.

Bellinger might be another sought-after player at the deadline. Before hurting his knee while making a spectacular catch at the wall against the Astros in Houston, he was hitting .271 with an .830 OPS.

‘‘It’s definitely frustrating,’’ Bellinger said of the timing of his injury. ‘‘But once I come back, I’m still pretty confident that I’m going to be where I was.’’

Bellinger and Stroman have been highlights in the Cubs’ up-and-down first couple of months of the season. So if they trade either, their trajectory is clear. And Hoyer will have to explain the decision not only to the Cubs’ fan base but to the players who bought into his vision and signed on for multiple years.

When second baseman Nico Hoerner inked a three-year extension that will carry him through his first free-agent year, he called the commitment as ‘‘a vote of confidence in the direction that the team is going.’’

A couple of weeks later, left fielder Ian Happ also agreed to an extension that runs through the 2026 season.

‘‘The exciting part about being here is being able to build something and work toward a championship,’’ he said then.

Swanson, who signed a seven-year, $177 million contract during the offseason, made it clear in his first meeting with the Cubs that winning is his priority. And in 2021, he won a World Series with a Braves team that was below .500 and five games back in the NL East on trade-deadline day. The Braves committed to adding and went on a run.

If the Cubs crash and burn before the deadline this season, that’s one thing. But if they end up in a gray area and start trading away talent, that’s a different conversation.

‘‘That middle ground, obviously, is really challenging,’’ Hoyer said. ‘‘And I’ll mentally cross that bridge when it comes to it, as far as how we would play that. But I think we have a good team. It’s really early. . . . And my hope is that we look back at these questions and they were moot.’’

The Latest
Donald Trump told the Washington Examiner that he had rewritten his acceptance speech in the wake of the Saturday shooting, emphasizing a call for national unity. “The speech I was going to give on Thursday was going to be a humdinger,” he said. “Honestly, it’s going to be a whole different speech now.”
Mr. Woo, who became a Chicago cop in 1969, is remembered as one of the department’s first Chinese American officers, and co-founder of the Asian American Law Enforcement Association.
The four Northwestern educators are charged with obstructing police during the protest. Those arrested questioned the timing, and the potential chilling effect on academic freedom.
Monday’s storms knocked down transmission towers and scattered wires across Interstate 55 near Channahon.