Three weeks ago news broke that Cubs 2016 leadoff man Dexter Fowler retired with a post by him on social media. “It’s here. I’m hanging up my cleats,” Fowler wrote.
Drafted by the Colorado Rockies in 2004 Fowler played in the majors seven years before coming to Chicago and being a big part of the 2016 World Series Champions. After hitting the market following 2016 he returned home to St. Louis for four seasons before going to Los Angeles to lead off for Maddon in 2021 and sitting out all of last season.
One day after retiring he was brought home by the Cubs to be a part of the family on Marquee network. This came as no surprise to me as a fan. Chances are in order for them to announce he was joining the team as a broadcaster he had to announce that he was retiring first.
I internalized my opinion about why the Cubs have not gotten back to the fall classic after 2016 and promised myself I would not share them with anyone until Fowler retired. So, here goes.
Without Fowler who was a top of the barrel leadoff hitter when he was in his prime there was no way the Cubs would have gotten to the World Series in 2016. That goes without saying. Did it have to be him, absolutely not. It could have been any true leadoff hitter.
The problem here is and always was that Theo Epstein was short sighted when he came to Chicago and had a goal of being here simply to end the draught then handing off the reigns to Jed Hoyer. As a result of his short sightedness Dexter was only here for two years and no serious extension talks ever took place before the 2015 season after they traded for him.
Then once the ring was won Theo was on another bender of his and did not bother to start seriously talking about a new longer term deal with Fowler. This meant no extensions would be seriously discussed with any of the guys that are known as the core of that team.
Theo stepped down in 2020 thanks to the pandemic shutting down the game and the impending lockout that we saw last winter. This left Jed with four infielders before the 2020 season started who he knew were not likely to resign here on long term deals unless they were getting no trade clauses.
In a sense all those guys were using the media to stress they wanted to stay here. At the same time they all knew the reality of it was there was literally no way at all they’d all stay here because they all deserved the contracts they got. They all knew there was no way they’d all get what the contracts wanted to stay in Chicago. On top of that, two of them were constantly battling injuries and those injuries were causing them to have bad slums with the bat.
Some fans blame ownership for Baez, Bryant, Rizzo, and Contreras not getting the contracts they deserved. Not me. I blame Jed. He handled it all wrong. That is the bottom line. Let’s go deeper into why I feel that way.
When Jed was promoted to President of Baseball Operations in 2020 following Theo’s departure he needed to work from the outside in. In other words, he needed to get serious about resigning Contreras with a full no trade clause.
Then once that was done get Jed needed to serious about giving Baez a long term deal with full trade calls as well and ask him to move over to third after Bryant left to free agency. Many fans wanted Bryant to stay here. So did I. However, I always knew that it was highly unlikely because of his agent being Scott Boras. His back issues added on top of the money Boras was looking to get him were enough for me to let him go.
That leaves Rizzo who has also had back issues the last few years. I would have loved to see Rizzo stay and take a “home town” discount and shorter term deal with a no trade clause. Say four years and a full no trade clause at $20 million per year.
Sadly, none of that happened because Jed was using the heart of that championship team to rebuild the minor leagues through trades. Unfortunately, it is too soon to tell if he failed at that… but I think he did. Only time will tell if the signings this past winter will be the new heart of the team and bring Chicago another ring.
At the end of the day, though, all we will get is a draft pick for Contreras. That on top of the other three being traded right before the lockout for players who may or may not see the light of day in the major leagues is no way to put a good product on the field. Oh, and the icing on the cake is we get to watch Willson play for our arch rivals.
With that… it is time to play ball!
If you cannot play with them, root for them!