Jed Hoyer appeared to be in need of a shave and a good night’s sleep when he addressed the media prior to Tuesday’s game at Wrigley, but he also seemed content. The trade deadline had passed with the club’s only losses coming from the minors and then a long-anticipated parting of ways with Trey Mancini. Being buyers, even in a less aggressive sense than many had wanted or believed they’d be, was a welcome change.
My own informal straw poll, one perhaps influenced by personal bias, had the Cubs adding one or two lefty relievers while avoiding the splashier acquisition of a big bat. Instead, they did the opposite by landing the best available hitter on the market in the NL WAR leader at third base while choosing not (or failing) to add to the bullpen.
To make things even more interesting, they immediately moved Jeimer Candelario across the diamond to first base, where he hadn’t played since 2020. Dude had to borrow Miguel Amaya‘s first base mitt just to play his first game back with his original organization. It was kind of a weird series of events that Hoyer inadvertently summed up while in the booth with Boog Sciambi and Jim Deshaies during Marquee’s broadcast.
The Cubs’ deeper lineup was certainly tall enough against Ben Lively and the Reds Tuesday night, hitting seven homers in a 20-run effort that forced the Cincy starter to wear it like an ugly sweater from Aunt Judy. Candelario had four hits on the evening, two of which were of the infield variety and three of which left the bat at 72.1 mph or less. Still, that’s as many hits as the man he replaced had tallied in the previous two weeks.
After building a team based on winning via pitching and run prevention, Hoyer opted to improve the offense and trust the Cubs’ relief corps would be up to the challenge of making those additional runs stand up. Tuesday wasn’t a great example of that because you and I could have held down a 15-run lead, but the bigger point is that this team forced the front office to make good on the strategy it had hoped to enact the whole time.
Remember back in early June when Hoyer was still hoping a long winning streak would help them choose a direction? It took about six weeks, but he finally got the proof he needed.
“In a lot of ways they made it really easy the way the team played,” Hoyer explained to the media. “You look at the way they played since early June [as] a cohesive group….it was a pretty easy decision to keep this group together.”
The team’s baseball boss added during the broadcast that the front office had made an internal decision to wait until this past Sunday to make any firm decisions. A lot of strategic moves were left on the cutting room floor, he admitted, and his slightly haggard appearance was proof that he’d been burning the midnight oil. Someone more intent on making bad puns might say he’d been burning the Candelario at both ends.
By bringing their former charge back into the fold exactly six years after they’d traded him to Detroit as part of the deal for Justin Wilson and Alex Avila, Hoyer made a significant upgrade to the roster for minimal cost. DJ Herz and Kevin Made had been slipping a bit in terms of their standing within the organization and both would have been part of a large group of Rule 5-eligible players this offseason. Their latent potential, however, was enough to get the Nationals to buy Candelario’s remaining salary down to the league minimum.
That means the Cubs get him for less than $250,000 over the next two months, a pittance given the impact he could have.
“He was the best fit,” Hoyer said. “It was very few hitters that we felt like could really add something to this team. And Candy was the one guy that we felt like — switch hitter really good from the left side can play both corners, can DH for us some — this really gives us a high-quality bat with good decision making and that was he was really very clear target.”
The only question now is whether adding Candelario alone will be enough to get the Cubs past the Reds and Brewers for a playoff run, especially when they didn’t do anything to shore up the bullpen. My hope is that the lack of outside additions means we’ll see reinforcements coming from the minors to help out down the stretch. With waiver trades a thing of the past, we’re looking more or less at the roster that’s going to have to get it done.