Jed Hoyer, Scott Boras Express Similar Optimism Regarding Cubs’ Competitive Timeline

Are Both Just Bluffing?

This was touched on in an earlier piece, but it bears diving into a little more deeply now that we’ve reached the point at which free agents are able to negotiate and sign with any team (5pm ET). Scott Boras is always a big media draw at the GM and Winter Meetings because he loves to pontificate and reporters love to tweet out his carefully crafted catchphrases, and that was no different Wednesday in Las Vegas as the super-agent shared his thoughts on free agency.

Included in his address was a direct assessment of the Cubs’ current state and path forward to renewed competitiveness, a pursuit that appeared to have lost a little steam based on recent reports. As strange as it seems that Boras would be the one to buoy those hopes, that’s exactly how it worked out.

“Far be it from me to define ‘intelligence,’” Boras told Patrick Mooney and other reporters. “I would say intelligence in baseball is a measure of probability because you know that you’re in a competitive environment. You know that the real probability in this game is to be in that top 12 because what goes on in the playoffs and such has a lot to do with getting great players to perform at great levels.”

In other words, he’s saying that winning makes you look smart and spending helps you to win. After mentioning that the Cubs appear to be entering the phase of their rebuild in which it’s time to acquire veteran players — good, expensive ones — Boras offered a very objective appraisal of their potential.

“I think it’s clear that the Cubs have a lot to do to get into that 40% [of teams that make the playoffs],” Boras continued. “There are a number of teams that are well ahead of them right now. But we also know that by the end of this free-agent market, they could map into that group quite easily.”

This is as much a pitch or a challenge as anything else, but it’s also one we’ve all been making either to ourselves or each other for the last few months now. Jed Hoyer has been doing the same thing, though he’s couched his words very carefully the whole time and really seems to be doing so with even more practiced phrasing of late.

“I think we absolutely want to compete in the interim,” Hoyer said at the GM Meetings. “I’ve sort of talked about what I want to build, but I think there’s no reason in the interim we can’t be really good. I think that to me is the part — I don’t want the nuance to be lost — I think absolutely we (can). I thought we played great towards the end of the season. We’ve talked about that.

“Yes, there was some good fortune in there. But I think we can definitely compete in the meantime. But we also don’t want to shortchange what we think we can build. That’s the balance. But, yes, we can compete.”

The tipping point appears to be the five-year mark on contract duration, something GM Carter Hawkins has referenced as well. They want to avoid another Jason Heyward deal that ends up souring so badly they’d rather eat the last $30-some million of it to keep him on the IL and then cut him loose. As hard as it is to imagine any of these shortstops aging with such disappointing results, the team’s MO seems pretty clear at this point.

This is Vegas, though, and I can’t help but see this all as a game of Texas Hold ‘Em in which we haven’t yet seen the flop. Everyone’s keeping their hole cards close and matching the blinds or placing early wagers to show the rest of the table how they feel about their odds. Hoyer lost some chips when Alexander Canario suffered a broken ankle and separated shoulder, but he’s still got several stacks of high society.

The bigger issue is that he doesn’t have any aces in his hand and he may have several other players at the table ready and willing to push all-in and cover him. Hoyer isn’t falling prey to that and he’s going to check for a while, eventually folding at the turn even if it means having to grit his teeth when he catches a diamond on the river to complete his flush draw.

While I can understand that to an extent, it’s that same kind of (forced?) conservativism that saw the Cubs miss out on Bryce Harper and Justin Verlander in the past. There’s a point at which it’s actually more intelligent to take big risks because without them it’s more difficult to win big. After all, you can’t win what you don’t put in the middle. And try as he might to convince us otherwise, Crane Kenney’s claim about payroll surplus rolling over doesn’t really hold water.

Perhaps Hoyer fancies himself as Matt Damon’s character in Rounders, staring Boras down and hoping the unflappable shark will eventually give away his tell. If that’s the plan, I’ve got a feeling Hoyer’s going to be sitting there with something other than chips in his hand while Boras yuks it up with his clients in the massive suite he got comped for being a whale.

If you can set aside the metaphorical shift of Boras from fish to mammal, the point is that the Cubs can’t really afford to just sit back here. They need to add a big bat if they are serious about competing, which they have to be based on attendance and Wrigley and ratings for Marquee. Or, you know, maybe a series of half-measures and a lot of good fortune will end up working out really well for them.

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