Bellinger has multi-HR game as Cubs enter pivotal stretch

Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer talks Deadline ahead of loss to the Red Sox

July 15th, 2023

CHICAGO -- The calls and texts have started coming in. Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer sat down in Wrigley Field’s home dugout on Friday, acknowledging that part of his day had already included conversations related to the trade market.

With the MLB Draft in the rearview mirror and the season’s second half underway, the focus of front offices around the game has started to shift to the Aug. 1 Trade Deadline. For a team in the Cubs’ position -- on the fringe of the postseason picture -- every game is precious over the next two-plus weeks.

“There’s nothing we want more than to add, to continue to win this season,” Hoyer said prior to his club’s 8-3 loss to the Red Sox. “But if we are in a position where that doesn’t look like the right bet to make, then we’ll pivot.”

As the clock ticks toward the Deadline, Hoyer noted two critical objectives for Chicago: get back to a .500 record and gain ground in the National League Central standings. The loss to Boston kept the Cubs seven back of the division-leading Reds and Brewers, and knocked them six games under the break-even mark (42-48).

Led by surging center fielder Cody Bellinger (two homers on Friday and a .441 average in his past 16 games) and starter Marcus Stroman (fourth in the NL with a 2.96 ERA), the Cubs have a group of veterans who could be valuable trade chips. That said, the North Siders want to be careful to balance the present against 2024 and the team’s long-term outlook.

“I definitely know what is possible,” Bellinger said before the All-Star break. “I’m focusing on helping this team win while I am here. And hopefully we can get on a little roll and stay together.”

Over the All-Star break, Hoyer said he and the team’s front-office leaders held internal talks about how to approach the Deadline. With no games on the schedule to influence the reactionary roller coaster the decision-makers can often ride, it was a chance to start considering the parameters for picking a buy-or-sell lane.

“You try to have conversations in moments like that,” Hoyer said. “There’s no games, we’re clear-headed, we’ve probably slept, you know? All those different things. I’m not going to give you our exact criteria, but we’re trying to make decisions in the most educated fashion possible -- not using emotion, not using one day’s loss or one day’s win. And I think that’s the most important thing.”

That sentiment was echoed by Cubs manager David Ross, whose focus is on the field and not on the Deadline. Ross understands the landscape in front of him. If the Cubs can swiftly climb back to .500 and set their sights more realistically on the division, then that could solve the front office’s current conundrum.

“It’s going to be dependent on how we play, right?” Ross said. “If we play [poorly], there will probably be more stuff going on. If we play really good and get on the roll, then we won’t probably hear much of the noise. It all comes down to how we play.”

Ross is well-versed in managing through a future-leaning Deadline, given the core-dismantling deals in 2021 and the prospect-gathering swaps a year ago. The past two years of rebuilding and roster restructuring also left veteran Kyle Hendricks as the last remaining player on the team from the ‘16 World Series champions.

Hendricks headed into Friday with a 2.61 ERA in his past six outings, but he hit a snag against the Red Sox. The righty equaled a career high with four homers allowed, yielding five runs over 4 2/3 innings.

After the loss, Hendricks reiterated the need for the Cubs to concentrate on each task in front of them, rather than letting the outside noise of the Trade Deadline enter into their thoughts.

“It’s just one pitch at a time, one play at a time,” Hendricks said. “That’s what’s going to get us there in the end. Yeah, the sense of urgency -- like we’ve talked about -- is there, but you can’t catastrophize and look too far into the future.”

The reality is that the Deadline is not all that far off.

“There are some very clear buyers out there,” Hoyer said. “But there’s a lot of teams that I think are still trying to figure out where they stand. I think there’s a lot of teams where a good 10 days or a bad 10 days could change what they’re doing. That’s been the nature of our conversations.”