It was a day of shock and ouch for Chicago baseball fans.
The shock of seeing Willson Contreras still wearing a Cubs uniform after the trade deadline was something no one expected, while the agony of watching the White Sox stand still at the deadline was another punch in the gut for fans already immune to the pain.
At least Sox general manager Rick Hahn and Cubs President Jed Hoyer can empathize with each other and argue over whose Twitter trolls are the nastiest.
We’ll start with Hahn, whose Sox remain accidental contenders because they play in baseball’s most mediocre division.
A season of unending frustration for Sox fans should’ve made their lack of movement Tuesday much easier to deal with. Waiting for the team to wake up from its four-month malaise has been an exercise in futility, with each step forward followed by a comical pratfall and every brilliant pitching performance by Dylan Cease followed by a clunker.
In the middle of the mess is manager Tony La Russa, who was in the spotlight again for momentarily closing his eyes while standing in the dugout Monday night, leading to memes and jokes on the internet that he was sleeping on the job.
But even in the most difficult season in most fans’ memories, there was always a light at the end of the tunnel.
The Minnesota Twins weren’t much better than the Sox, and the Cleveland Guardians were playing above their heads. All the Sox had to do was catch lightning for one extended hot streak, and the division would be theirs. Another solid left-handed bat, a couple more arms in the bullpen and the Sox could take off running.
But that wasn’t in the cards. Except for a minor deal Monday for left-handed reliever Jake Diekman, the Sox stood still at the deadline.
Hahn acknowledged Tuesday he was “sleep-deprived” and in a “crap mood,” much like everyone else on the South Side, including his manager. Hahn said he was “disappointed” he couldn’t convert on any of his targets and told Sox fans he was “there with you” in terms of their frustration.
Most importantly, he defused the narrative the Sox weren’t willing to add to the payroll to get better for the stretch run, taking Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf off the hook.
“I wouldn’t put it as a money issue because at no point did we go to Jerry on anything and be told no over the last period of time we’ve been talking about deals,” Hahn said. “Look, it was a different market this year.”
It was indeed a different market, with more buyers than sellers. But that didn’t stop the New York Yankees, San Diego Padres or Seattle Mariners from taking risks and getting better.
Of course, Hahn said he still has faith that the roster that entered Tuesday with a .500 record suddenly will find itself. He said the Sox need to “recapture” the swagger from 2020 and ‘21, though it’s difficult to swag when there’s nothing to swag about. Hahn said he doesn’t believe in “change for change’s sake,” feeling the clubhouse does not need to be shaken up.
Asked if he’s satisfied with the job La Russa has done, Hahn skirted the subject. Asked if there’s anything La Russa could do to make the Sox better, he replied: “Is there anything the manager and coaches can do to make this team better?”
Uh, the question was about the manager.
“Sure, everyone is involved in trying to make this team better,” Hahn said, “and if we fail to get to the ultimate level we feel is appropriate for this team’s talent, all of us, myself included, should be held accountable.”
But La Russa is the one absorbing most of the criticism for the failure.
“Well, he shouldn’t listen to the criticism,” Hahn said. “That’s what I try to do. You know that.”
The Sox did not make La Russa available before the game.
Meanwhile, Hoyer was in super spin mode Tuesday trying to explain what happened with Contreras.
“Willson is a really valuable player, he’s been a great Cub for six years now and we never got to that place where we felt close to making a deal to end his tenure here,” Hoyer said.
In other words, the market for one of the best hitting catchers in the game didn’t exist, in spite of the fact Hoyer had months to find a trade partner. The minute the Washington Nationals put Juan Soto on the trade market was the moment Hoyer should’ve realized he needed to speed up the process on Contreras.
But he misread things, just as he did last year with Kris Bryant. So instead of getting some valuable prospects for Contreras, he will have an unhappy Contreras playing out the string for a bad Cubs team after spending the entire season dealing with the likelihood of being traded.
There are no rules that say you have to wait until the deadline day to make a move. Maybe Hoyer just likes the drama of the last-minute deal. Either way, he blew it, and the Cubs can get only a draft pick as compensation for their valuable trade chip should Contreras sign elsewhere in free agency.
Some Cubs fans may be happy that Contreras remains on the team for the next two months, but unless they re-sign him after the season, it will go down as one of the biggest blunders of the Hoyer era, no matter how long it lasts.
The long goodbye will last a little longer.
Group hug, anyone?