NEW YORK — The Chicago Cubs’ way forward isn’t any easier.
This can broadly apply to leading a rebuilding organization as team president Jed Hoyer tries to build another contender. But in the short term, this part of the Cubs’ schedule will test how they stack up against some of baseball’s top teams.
The Cubs have just two days left between now and the All-Star break. And for a stoned group that loses close games too often, the next five weeks could be tough. The Cubs are trying to avoid a series sweep on Sunday after losing 8-0 to the New York Yankees on Saturday.
Here are three thoughts on the team entering Sunday’s series finale at Yankee Stadium.
The Cubs looked set to bring Suzuki back into the lineup.
Earlier in the week, manager David Ross said Suzuki was in play to return for the Cubs’ weekend series against the New York Yankees. Ross even said he would “eat my words” if Suzuki wasn’t on the injured list before Sunday’s series finale. Well, that moment has come – and passed.
Suzuki was prescribed rest for about five days to allow his strained left ring finger to continue to heal. The Cubs want to make sure the swelling goes away and Suzuki doesn’t continue to make it worse. So that means you shouldn’t hit during this rest period.
Ross estimated Suzuki’s finger was 85-90 percent. There is no timeline for his return and it is also too early to determine if Suzuki will need a rehab assignment before leaving IL.
“He really wants to play and we try to take that into account,” Ross said on Sunday. “And he tried to train and push it a bit and it still drags a bit.
“We’ve all come to the conclusion that it’s not smart to have a backhand. … We’re just going to be patient with that.
Suzuki’s type of finger injury basically requires rest to get better. Doctors’ understanding of Cubs is that his finger does not need surgery to resolve the pain and swelling. At least that’s good news. However, Hoyer said on Saturday that “it’s going to take time” for Suzuki to return to the field.
“Frankly, I’m okay with that because this year it’s really important for him to assimilate, to face the big league pitchers and to understand what he needs to do to move forward in his career,” Hoyer said. “And coming back and kind of having this nagging injury and not really being able to do it well, that doesn’t make a lot of sense. He needs to come back when he can really compete at this level, and it’s hard to do that when you have a swollen finger all the time.
It’s a discouraging development for Suzuki and the Cubs. He hasn’t played since May 26 in Cincinnati. The casualness of the injury adds a level of frustration. An errant throw on a stolen base forced Suzuki to adjust his slide, and his hand awkwardly hit the second base sack, trapping his finger.
Hoyer said Suzuki saw “a number of doctors,” including getting checked out while the team was in New York. Hoyer planned to sit down with Suzuki before Saturday’s game to determine next steps.
“He really wants to play and I think that’s part of the challenge we face,” Hoyer said. “I think he feels like he needs to play. Our sense is to try to be careful about that, but I know we’re fighting against a competitive guy. I understand that’s frustrating enough, it’s a finger injury, right? It can be frustrating. It feels like it’s just a finger, but it’s important.
As the Cubs’ flagship signing this offseason, Suzuki’s absence was felt as the offense too often fell short in close games. Even though Suzuki was in an offensive rut before his injury, his presence in the roster makes the Cubs better even if he’s not in the same rhythm as when he was named the League’s Rookie of the Month for April. national.
The Cubs don’t want the stretched finger lingering during Suzuki’s rookie season. This could force Suzuki to be sidelined longer than expected.
The decision to nominate outfielder Clint Frazier for assignment on Friday drew a strong backlash from Cubs fans on social media.
A vocal part of fans expressed frustration that 27-year-old Frazier, whose remaining officiating years give team control through 2024, should have been held off veteran outfielder Jason Heyward. Those sentiments should, in theory, align with the Cubs’ overall vision, as the organization has emphasized the importance of weighing the future.
“Of course, there’s room for guesswork in all of these decisions, but I promise you it’s incredibly complicated trying to figure it out,” Hoyer said. “There are certainly decisions that we have made or will make over the next month or so that people have every right to guess or wonder. And believe me, there is no unanimity when we make these decisions. It’s really, really difficult.
As for Heyward, at some point his offensive inconsistency will become too hard to ignore. Hoyer said Heyward “didn’t play this year or last year” at the level he wanted. But Hoyer thinks Heyward offers a lot of value that fans don’t see, specifically mentioning how he mentors young players and his work ethic.
“I don’t think his struggles are any different than anyone else’s in some way,” Hoyer said. “So obviously we’ve made the decision that we’ve made about Clint and as far as Jason is concerned, we see real value that he brings on a day-to-day basis.”
The Cubs continue to say the good things about Heyward and how he still positively affects the team. Injuries will help him stay on the roster. But at some point, Heyward’s behind-the-scenes impact might not be enough for the Cubs to overlook his other shortcomings, regardless of how much money he’s still owed through 2023, the final year of his contract.
The Cubs could have moved left fielder Michael Hermosillo (left quad) to the 60-day IL to open up the 40-man berth they needed on Friday for Chris Martin’s return from the shortlist. Instead, the front office opted for DFA Frazier.
“The roster part was by far the hardest I’ve ever had,” Hoyer said. “Trying to understand our 40 men on a daily basis, trying to understand the IL on a daily basis. My text threads are literally nothing more than trying to figure this out.
Heyward’s next roster safety tests could come when Suzuki and/or David Bote are ready to leave IL.
The Cubs don’t have a lot of choice in their positional players. Christopher Morel played too well, serving as a spark plug at the top of the lineup while providing defensive versatility. PJ Higgins is the only other positional player with minor league options remaining which realistically is an option unless they send Nick Madrigal to try to get him to Triple A. Otherwise the Cubs would have need DFA someone.
106 outstanding plate appearances in his major league career is enough to think big of Morel’s potential.
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Morel won’t be 23 until June 24, but he’s established himself as one of the Cubs’ most exciting players. After going 0-for-3 in Saturday’s 8-0 loss, Morel’s streak to reach base safely ended at 22 games to start his franchise-record MLB career. His defensive work in center and middle field has given the Cubs pitching a boost while stabilizing the roster’s top spot over the past three weeks.
Morel’s plate discipline surprised and impressed Hoyer the most.
“We need as many good young players as possible to really build the kind of core that can go forward and win,” Hoyer said. “It would be wonderful if he emerges and can be part of it.”
Morel is an example of how player development and the rise of exceptional players doesn’t always come from an organization’s highest-rated prospects. Morel reminds Hoyer of Willson Contreras and how he too wasn’t an advertised prospect to the point where the Cubs left Contreras unprotected for the Rule 5 draft before the 2015 season.
There is no guarantee that Morel will stay with the Cubs for the rest of the season, let alone beyond 2022. Kyle Schwarber, in 2017, and Ian Happ, in 2019, are examples of young players from the previous core that the Cubs sent to minors when they struggled. For the moment, this is not a problem with Morel. Their confidence and belief in him is evident by placing him at the top of the order in every game.
“His tools are playing in the big leagues, that’s for sure,” Hoyer said. “You see his arm, that’s the role I think we always knew we could play. It was bat-to-ball skills and plate discipline. And I don’t know if that’s a level different focus than he has in the big leagues, but certainly that stuff has been incredibly impressive.
“He has a huge impact on the team.”