Cubs' David Ross Won't ‘Punt' on 2022, Can't Deny Rebuild Reality

Ross won’t ‘punt’ on 2022 but no denying rebuild reality originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

CINCINNATI — The tank is in, even if manager David Ross refuses to ‘punt’ on the Cubs’ 2022 season and tries to decipher a winning formula for an extended stretch.

Don’t like calling the front office’s intentions tanking for the second time in a decade? Then call it a lengthy rebuild or multi-year roster overhaul for the second time in a decade.

Not even the optimistic Ross will deny that.

But it doesn’t make the tickets to games any cheaper. And nobody seems to be able to offer the paying clientele a planned timeline for when those lofty ticket prices might buy a glimpse of a North Side contender.

About the only thing we can tell as the Cubs reached the quarter mark of the season is that they might finally have some young homegrown pitchers who look promising, and that they invested over the winter in a 27-year-old hitter they expect to play a significant role in team president Jed Hoyer’s “next great Cubs team.”

Beyond that, the roster is filled mostly with questions, fillers and guys who will be shopped in a trade-deadline selloff as certain as any for the Cubs since, well, last year.

“I know you want to talk trade deadline and [timelines],” Ross said when peppered by questions on the topic before Monday’s win in the opener of a four-game series against the pitiable Reds. “I can’t think about any of that stuff.”

The big picture might be Hoyer’s to draw up as the prez continues to “keep one eye on the future” while assembling rosters in the now.

But it’s Ross’ reality to live as he keeps his focus on the now while preparing for the payoff of that future.

That much he can’t ignore.

When the man who not long ago said “I know what winning looks like” was asked this week what this 2022 Cubs team looks like, he did not call it winning, even as he clung to that effort.

“My job is to come to work every single day and try to win every day with the personnel we have right now,” Ross said — while also acknowledging the cross purposes, if not potentially lengthy process, involved in the bigger picture.

“I don’t go there too often,” he said. “It’s hard to talk big picture without knowing what holes you need to fill. You’ve got to let guys have their season, continue to develop into major league players before you know, one, are they everyday big-league players? Are they a fit on our roster? And then where those holes are to fill a championship-caliber team — we’re working toward that every day and trying to get better.”

Are starter Justin Steele, swingman Keegan Thompson and a handful of homegrown short relievers part of that “next great Cubs team”? What about Caleb Kilian at Triple-A or any of a handful of other pitching prospects?

We know free agent right fielder Seiya Suzuki is in the plans. But what about Ian Happ — whose pending free agency after next season makes him a candidate for an extension or a trade? He already has been included in early trade speculation around baseball, along with even Marcus Stroman, the starter in the first year of a three-year contract.

Or rookie Chris Morel, who has made a strong first impression his first week on the big-league job? Or older players getting their first extended opportunities, like Patrick Wisdom and Frank Schwindel?

“The only way to know that is for those guys to continue to work and try to get better,” Ross said, “and look up at the end of the season and see where we’re at.”

That might be as honest an answer on the Cubs’ timeline as it gets.

In other words, they can’t be sure of anything yet. But maybe by the end of the season, they’ll have a few more answers and some indication of where to turn next for more.

Hoyer, who’s still living down last summer’s absurd statement that “I don’t know what the definition of a rebuild is,” said last week, “I don’t want to put the exact years on it like you want me to.”

All of which might be tough to swallow, fresh off the six-year golden-age of franchise success and even fresher off a 20-hour purge of core All-Stars at last year’s trade deadline.

Especially for one of the top three revenue-producing teams in the game.

Most especially for anyone shelling out the bucks for season tickets and team-owned broadcast programming.

“I think we’ve got a real solid pitching staff,” Ross said. “We’ve got a bullpen that’s doing a really nice job. Guys are going through the ups and downs offensively as a group.”

Some of the individual successes might even stick, might even play significant roles in the franchise’s next contender.

But for now, the quarter mark of the season is mostly a reminder of how long a baseball season  can look when the ones at the top aren’t trying as hard to win as the ones in uniform.

“I don’t think we ever lose sight of winning,” said Ross, whose club entered Tuesday 17-24 after winning its last two games. “I don’t think that’s changed.”

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