Rambling Notes: Craig Counsell Spoke with David Ross, AJ Preller Hasn’t Heard from Jed Hoyer, Matt Mervis in Limbo

It’s a fairly slow day as far as news and rumors go, so I figured I’d slap together a few notes that don’t merit articles in and of themselves. Apologies to those folks out there who think we should only put something out there when something concrete happens.

Bruce Levine tweeted Friday afternoon that Craig Counsell and David Ross “have had a long conversation,” which is pretty cool and also somewhat unexpected. I have to assume Counsell was the one to reach out, seeing as how he ousted Ross by accepting Jed Hoyer’s offer when Ross was still employed. Relationships break up all the time when one partner finds someone else more desirable, but you don’t usually see the homewrecker reaching out to the wrecked so soon.

Credit to Counsell for doing so, and at least as much of the same to Ross for handling this all with grace. He expressed gratitude in his first public comments since his surprise firing, which came in an exclusive interview with the Tallahassee Democrat. Though he admitted to being mad at times, a reportedly emotional Ross chose not to express his disagreement with the decision.

This is all a perfect illustration of his management style and the reason he was ultimately expendable when Counsell’s contract with the Brewers expired. Ross was great as a people person, keeping players motivated and maintaining great energy in the clubhouse. But when it came to in-game strategy, he seemed to be reactive far too often and may have been a bit stubborn.

I don’t think his tenure with the Cubs will be viewed as much other than meh once history wears down some of its edges, but Hoyer has been a little less guarded with the implicit criticism lately.

Speaking of criticism, the biggest factor cited by those who are salty about the move is that Ross wasn’t given a good enough roster to show what he could do. It’s a chicken/egg thing because he also left wins on the table and didn’t maximize what he was given. I’ve wondered whether the offseason will look different now that Counsell is managing, and I think it might.

Though the Cubs won’t opt to spend as little as the Brewers, the perceived increase in roster efficiency under new management will allow what they do spend to look more intelligent in hindsight. That spending should consist of prospects, money, and current players as the front office fills gaps through both free agency and trades.

One of the biggest names on the latter market is Juan Soto, who everyone expects the Padres to move this winter. Unless you believe the reports coming out of San Diego that the superstar could remain until the trade deadline. That appears to be little more than a ploy meant to gain back the leverage they’ve lost amid talks that they need to cut costs after taking out a $50 million loan to make payroll.

Levine noted on 670 The Score’s Inside the Clubhouse that Padres president and GM AJ Preller had not heard from Hoyer as of Wednesday. It’s possible Preller was keeping things just as quiet as Hoyer tends to with these matters, plus that was several days ago. If there’s one thing we should all know by now, it’s that the Cubs are as stealthy as any team in baseball when it comes to hiding their moves from the public eye.

No one had the slightest inkling of their deal with Counsell until 24 hours after it happened, just like they managed to keep a tight lid on the Marcus Stroman and Seiya Suzuki signings. Extensions for Ian Happ and Nico Hoerner likewise came together very quickly in terms of how much anyone on the outside knew prior to being made official.

The Cubs will be working to make roster improvements this winter, about that there’s no doubt, but how they do that could be a little different with Counsell’s input. He was very much involved in front office decisions during his Brewers tenure and Hoyer has spoken before about a flat hierarchy in Chicago that encourages contributions from everyone. In other words, he’s not just listening to the people that got them there.

Ross’s decisions on playing time surely contributed to his undoing, though Hoyer isn’t without blame for putting certain players on the roster. Whoever you want to put it on, Matt Mervis is one of the guys who got a raw deal when it came to his usage last season. Before I get into that any further, I’m going to say right now that it’s very foolish to claim 99 plate appearances were enough for him to prove anything one way or the other.

What’s not foolish is understanding that regardless of what you think should have happened, the result is that Mash seems to be almost a forgotten man when discussing first base options.

The organization could have opted to hand the first base gig its 2022 Player of the Year right from the jump, but the offseason additions of Trey Mancini and Eric Hosmer ruled that out. The former was eventually DFAd after posting a 74 wRC+ and -0.8 fWAR over 263 plate appearances and the latter was cut loose after giving the Cubs a 67 wRC+ and -0.4 fWAR over 100 PAs.

Mervis had plenty of his own struggles, there’s no denying that. His .167/.242/.289 slash, four homers, 46 wRC+, and -0.6 fWAR illustrate it clearly, but his .218 BABIP and very strong batted-ball data heavily suggested a breakout was coming. Delaying his promotion and then hastening his demotion was like stopping construction on a new two-story home and moving to a dilapidated bungalow because rain was coming in through the unfinished roof.

The whole thing about playing the guys that got you there always rubbed me the wrong way because some of those guys had actually prevented the Cubs from being further along. Not only that, but Ross needed to be playing the guys who could have gotten them to where they wanted to go. It’s back to the reactionary thing again. The only thing more dangerous than looking past opponents is living in the past.

You could make the argument that Mervis was one of the players holding the Cubs back, but that unfinished ceiling was so much higher than anything Mancini or Hosmer could have contributed. Just look at how the Red Sox handled 23-year-old rookie first baseman Triston Casas. Through his first 101 plate appearances, the lefty-batting slugger was slashing .157/.297/.301 with three homers, 65 wRC+, and -0.4 fWAR that was buoyed only by a high walk rate.

Over his subsequent 401 PAs, Casas slashed .289/.384/.535 with 21 homers and a 146 wRC+ and 2.1 fWAR. Could Mervis have had the same kind of turnaround if given more time? I believe so, which is why I hope the Cubs’ efforts to solidify first base include him. Hoyer said Christopher Morel would be playing there this winter to if he could stick there, though he was at third in his first Dominican Winter League game. Rhys Hoskins would be a solid fit on a pillow deal as he looks to rebuild value following a season lost to ACL reconstruction.

Both of those guys are right-handed batters who can also DH, so neither would block Mervis in any way. In fact, moving Morel — who I still think is a very strong candidate to be traded — or signing Hoskins would actually give Counsell plenty of cushion to let Mash learn to mash in the bigs. I should also note that this all presupposes Patrick Wisdom will be non-tendered this winter.

I’ve got personal reasons to pull for Mervis, but I think the Cubs will be a better team if he’s able to provide the lefty pop they still need. But even as much as I believe in Mash, I believe just as strongly that Hoyer needs to put together an offseason that ensures the Cubs don’t have to count on big contributions from any prospects or position shifts.

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