CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs took a big step toward contending for a championship and changed the outlook for a franchise coming off back-to-back losing seasons.
It didn't end the way President of Baseball Operations Jed Hoyer would have liked. But he sees something bigger taking shape.
“The shell of a really good team is there,” he said Tuesday. “Obviously, we have to make additions and we have to find ways to improve. But I feel really good, given where we were a year ago. The number of pieces we have that are contributing players on a really good team is there, and we just need to supplement that.”
The Cubs finished second in the NL Central at 83-79 and missed the playoffs by a game after faltering down the stretch in a season full of big swings. They went from being 10 games below .500 in June to 12 above in early September, only to go 7-15 the rest of the way.
Despite the team's late slump, Hoyer was “very pleased” with David Ross in the manager's fourth season. He said some criticism of Ross was over the top. But he also acknowledged next year will be an important one for Ross and the organization.
“We have real organizational momentum," Hoyer said. “I think it's really important to continue to build on that. Obviously, Rossy's a big part of that. He's not a new manager anymore. He's going into his fifth season. I think he's really matured on the job.”
The Cubs have some big items on their to-do list as they try to close a nine-game gap with division champion Milwaukee, let alone rise to the level of the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers.
Topping the list? Re-signing Cody Bellinger. There are also potential holes in the rotation, with Kyle Hendricks' contract expiring and Marcus Stroman holding a $21 million option for next season.
The 2019 National League MVP, Bellinger is in line for a huge payday if he becomes a free agent after the World Series. He hit .307 with 26 homers and 97 RBIs in a bounce-back season.
It was quite a turnaround for a player who was cut by the Dodgers in November after being limited by injuries and experiencing a drastic decline on offense. The Cubs signed him to a $17.5 million, one-year contract, and he was a big reason why they finished third in the NL in runs behind Atlanta and Los Angeles.
“He loves Wrigley Field and he loves the fans,” Hoyer said. “I think his experience was fantastic. Obviously, our experience with him was fantastic. We'd love to bring him back.”
Whether they can reach an agreement remains to be seen. Hoyer said the Cubs “will be in communication” with Bellinger and agent Scott Boras in the coming weeks.
“I think you're always trying to sell free agents on what it's like to play in Chicago,” Hoyer said. “There's nothing better than having a guy experience it for a year and openly say he loves it. Certainly, it gives us a shot. We won't have to recruit him very hard. I think he knows what this place is all about.”
The same goes for Hendricks, the lone player left from the Cubs' 2016 World Series championship team. Hoyer said the 33-year-old right-hander had an “exceptional” season once he returned in late May from a capsule tear in his pitching shoulder, posting a 3.74 ERA in 24 starts.
Stroman went from dominating the first three months and making his second All-Star team to struggling through injuries the rest of the way. He finished with a 3.95 ERA in 25 starts and 27 appearances.
Stroman's second season in Chicago took a bad turn when he left a start against St. Louis in London in late June because of a blister. He missed six weeks because of inflammation in his right hip and then a rib cartilage fracture, and wasn't the same when he returned in mid-September.
“He and his agent have a decision to make,” Hoyer said. “We'll find out after the World Series what that is. If he chooses to come back, the second half of 2022 and the first half of this year were exceptionally good. He's a really good pitcher.”