A Paradox of Ambition and Stagnation

The Chicago Cubs’ decision to hire Craig Counsell as their new manager last winter sparked a wave of excitement and high expectations among fans and analysts alike. Counsell, renowned for his strategic acumen and success with the Milwaukee Brewers, seemed poised to inject a fresh, competitive spirit into the Cubs’ clubhouse. However, as the offseason unfolded, a concerning narrative emerged: the Cubs’ front office, led by President of Baseball Operations Jed Hoyer, displayed a puzzling lack of urgency in addressing the team’s critical needs. This paradox of ambition at the managerial level contrasted starkly with a seemingly stagnant approach to roster enhancement, leaving many to wonder whether the Cubs are truly committed to contending in the upcoming season.

Craig Counsell: A Beacon of Hope

Craig Counsell’s hiring was, without question, a bold move. His tenure with the Brewers was marked by innovative strategies, particularly in bullpen management and platoon usage, which often maximized the performance of an otherwise modestly talented roster. Under his leadership, the Brewers consistently punched above their weight, making several playoff appearances and establishing themselves as a formidable opponent in the National League Central Division.

For the Cubs, bringing in Counsell was not just about his impressive track record but also about his reputation as a player’s manager who excels in developing young talent and fostering a winning culture. This decision suggested a commitment to leveraging Counsell’s strengths to elevate the Cubs from their rebuilding phase to serious contention.

The Front Office’s Inertia

Despite the fanfare surrounding Counsell’s arrival, the Cubs’ front office has made perplexingly few significant moves to bolster the roster. As of early June 2024, the team has not addressed several glaring deficiencies that have plagued them in recent seasons. The starting rotation, bullpen depth, and outfield consistency remain areas of concern, with little indication of aggressive pursuit of top-tier free agents or impactful trades.

Starting Rotation Woes

The starting rotation is arguably the most critical component of any contending team, and the Cubs’ rotation has been middling at best. While Shota Imanaga seems to have been figured out by other teams his consistency was carrying the team before a couple of weeks ago. Justin Steele, a promising young left-hander started the season with a hamstring injury which he suffered on opening day. Beyond these two, the rotation is filled with mostly unproven talent. While Kyle Hendricks is expected by many analysts and reporters, including this one, to be back in the rotation by the All-Star break he is also an aging veteran who has struggled the last few years.

The free agent market boasted several high-profile pitchers during the offseason, yet the Cubs failed to secure any of them. Instead, they opted for low-risk, low-reward signings, which, while fiscally conservative, do little to change the team’s immediate fortunes. This approach starkly contrasts with teams like the New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers, who have shown a willingness to spend aggressively to secure elite pitching talent.

Bullpen Inconsistencies

In the bullpen, the Cubs have a mix of potential and volatility. While Closer Adbert Alzolay has emerged as a reliable ninth-inning option he was placed on the 60-day Injured List in the last couple weeks. Hector Neris has replaced him as closer and likely will stay there for the remainder of the season even once Alzolay returns. However the middle relief remains a patchwork of unproven youngsters and journeyman veterans. Effective bullpens are often built on a combination of depth and versatility, areas where the Cubs are conspicuously lacking. The front office’s reluctance to pursue proven relievers in the offseason has left this unit precariously thin.

Outfield Instability

The outfield situation is similarly concerning. Seiya Suzuki has shown potential but has been inconsistent due to injuries and streaky performance. Ian Happ, while a solid contributor, cannot carry the offensive production alone. Center Field remains a platoon situation between the oft-injured Cody Bellinger and the Cubs young start center field phenom Pete-Crow Armstrong; with, Bellinger playing at first many days. The Cubs’ failure to acquire a consistent power bat or a high-OBP player to complement their existing lineup further underscores the front office’s passive approach.

Financial Conservatism or Lack of Vision?

One could argue that the Cubs’ front office is exercising financial prudence, perhaps wary of the long-term commitments that come with signing high-profile free agents. However, this caution appears misaligned with the decision to hire Counsell, a manager whose talents are best utilized in a competitive environment, not in the midst of a prolonged rebuild.

The Cubs’ financial capability is not in question; they are one of the most profitable franchises in Major League Baseball. The apparent reluctance to invest in the roster suggests either a lack of vision or a disconnect between the front office’s long-term planning and the immediate need to capitalize on Counsell’s hiring.

Fan Discontent and Media Scrutiny

The lack of urgency from the front office has not gone unnoticed by the Cubs’ passionate fan base and the media. Fans, who have endured several years of mediocrity following the 2016 World Series triumph, are growing increasingly frustrated with what they perceive as a lack of commitment to winning. The hiring of Counsell raised expectations significantly, making the subsequent inaction even more disappointing.

Media outlets have been vocal in their criticism, questioning whether the Cubs’ leadership truly understands the opportunity cost of not acting decisively in the offseason. Analysts point to the competitive nature of the National League Central, where teams like the Brewers and Cardinals consistently retool and remain competitive. In such an environment, standing still is tantamount to falling behind.

The Road Ahead

For the Cubs to genuinely contend in 2024, the front office must shift gears and demonstrate the same urgency and ambition that characterized the hiring of Craig Counsell. This involves making strategic moves to strengthen the starting rotation, solidify the bullpen, and address the outfield inconsistencies. Trades, free-agent signings, and possibly integrating high-performing prospects should be on the agenda.

Jed Hoyer and Carter Hawkins need to recognize that the window for winning with Counsell is not indefinite. Each season of underperformance not only wastes the potential brought by an elite manager but also risks alienating a loyal fan base desperate for success. The Cubs’ front office must align their actions with their aspirations, committing to building a roster capable of delivering on the promise that Counsell’s hiring initially represented.

Here’s the thing folks: While the hiring of Craig Counsell was a step in the right direction for the Chicago Cubs, the lack of corresponding urgency from the front office has created a perplexing and frustrating situation. To make the most of Counsell’s managerial prowess, the Cubs must address their roster deficiencies with the same boldness that brought Counsell to Chicago. Only then can they hope to transition from a team with potential to a genuine contender in 2024 and beyond.

With that… both of this weeks series’ against the Tampa Bay Rays and St. Louis Cardinals need to lead to the front office showing more urgency leading to the trading deadline on July 30th.

If you cannot play with them, then root for them

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