Last Tuesday, at the brink of MLB's trade deadline, Chicago Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer had a decision to make: Trade catcher Willson Contreras for what he believed was below market value, or keep him and potentially get an extra draft pick if Contreras leaves as a free agent at the end of the season.
For weeks, it had been a fait accompli that Contreras would be moved, especially after Hoyer had pulled off another deadline dump one year earlier with stars Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Javy Baez. The Cubs are rebuilding and focusing on youth, so getting another prospect or two in exchange for a few months of Contreras' service was attractive to Hoyer and his front office.
There were conversations, of course, with Cleveland and Tampa Bay, both organizations that have a need at catcher but are usually loath to give up prospects with team control. The Mets were involved early but never moved, perhaps feeling burned by trading for Baez while giving up rising prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong the year before. The San Diego Padres were also in the mix but fell out once they traded for Juan Soto earlier in the day. The 6 p.m. ET deadline hit, and a deal had never materialized.
"Each offseason and trade deadline, you try to make the right decisions in the moment," Hoyer said this week. "I think we've done a good job of doing that, but you can't force your way in one direction or another. If a trade doesn't line up, you can't force it. You have to realize there may be another option the Cubs can benefit from."
History and reputation allow Hoyer the benefit of the doubt. One current GM described the Cubs as "fair, direct and transparent" when it comes to making trades. And it's not as though Hoyer sat idle -- despite the non-trade of Contreras, the Cubs still made several deals as Mychal Givens, David Robertson, Chris Martin and Scott Effross all changed teams.
The deals made this the second consecutive year Chicago has subtracted instead of added at the trade deadline. It's an unusual position for one of baseball's marquee clubs, even one undergoing their second rebuild in a decade. But their 45-65 record tells the story of this season.
"If everything had gone right and we hit the 90th percentile on certain things, maybe we could have gotten to that point [of adding]," Hoyer said. "But the margin for error was small and being in the position that we are, we should have sold. I don't enjoy the process of selling. I want to flip that to the buy side as soon as possible."
The Cubs are one of baseball's most storied franchises. They're often featured on the national scene -- like in this year's Field of Dreams game against the Reds on Thursday -- and will play the Cardinals in London next season.
All of those opportunities come in part because they're also one of the sport's most beloved. This year, the Cubs have the highest per-game regular-season attendance at 32,873 of any losing team in baseball. It ranks seventh among all teams.
Cubs games are apparently must watch in Chicago, even if their product is unwatchable many nights. Now Hoyer and the rest of the team just have to find a way to change that.