Jed Hoyer Soft-Pedals Brailyn Marquez Promotion Hype, ‘Not Closing Door’ on Jon Lester Return

The Cubs have remained somewhat coy when it comes to the immediate future of prized lefty pitching prospect Brailyn Marquez, though recent chatter has indicated he could actually be a possibility to join the bullpen this season. David Ross said the club was playing a “wait-and-see game” with Marquez, who has been wowing everyone at the alternate site with his big fastball and nasty breaking stuff.

Spending money and prospect capital to acquire lefty relievers Josh Osich and Andrew Chafin doesn’t bode well for the 21-year-old Marquez, whose biggest knock is a lack of experience. Though Jed Hoyer admitted Sunday that the big southpaw has gotten better on a weekly basis over the summer, he downplayed the idea of Marquez joining the Cubs for the last week of the season and perhaps the playoffs.

“I think people forget that this is a guy that has never pitched above high-A ball,” Hoyer told the media. “He’s made nice progress this year and is certainly someone we have a lot of high hopes for going forward. We’ll have to make a decision on him, as far as whether he’s in that 40-man [playoff] roster or not.”

Call me a meatball, but this is really disappointing to me on more than one level. First, the lack of experience and exposure could actually work in the young man’s favor at this point. No one outside the organization has really gotten a look at him, plus the massive cuts to scouting departments around the game mean that a lot of the scouts who’ve seen Marquez in previous seasons are no longer around. If there is a book on him, it’s just an outline or a treatment at best.

What’s more, Marquez brings the Cubs a different look from anything they’ve got in the ‘pen right now. His stuff is light years beyond their current stable of lefties, even if his maturity and experience is lacking. Though the relief corps has been very good lately, a team that’s had trouble scoring can ill afford to carry a bunch of guys who don’t miss bats.

Then there’s the ancillary benefit, one that should matter more to ownership than Ross or the front office, of having an exciting rookie flamethrower on the mound. Marquez would make the cash registers pop. You think anyone is going to to order a jersey with CHAFIN or BROTHERS on the back? For a team claiming to be drowning in biblical losses, any new revenue stream helps.

And yes, I know that’s a weird mixed metaphor.

I’m doubtful we’ll see Marquez this season, but one move that might make sense for next year is to bring Jon Lester back on a team-friendly deal. The lefty was emotional after his most recent start, which may have been his last at Wrigley, saying afterward that Chicago is home and there’s no other jersey he’d rather wear.

He has also said that he wants to keep pitching, though he’s not going to be able to get anything close to the $25.83 million he’s earned annually under his current contract. The Cubs hold a $25 million option on him for 2021 that has a $10 million buyout, so perhaps they’d be able to restructure something to keep him around for even less on an annual basis.

“That’s certainly not something that’s front of mind right now as we play out the rest of the season,” Hoyer said. “We’re certainly not closing the door on anything, and I’m sure we’ll have discussions at some point this winter. But there’s no reason to talk about it [now].”

As big of a warm fuzzy it’d give everyone to see Lester ride off into the sunset with the Cubs, the payroll budget Hoyer and Theo Epstein will have to work with for the 2021 season isn’t going to have much room. That’s why they’ve spent so little in free agency over the past two winters and why they targeted bargain items from the scratch-and-dent section at the deadline. Even with a lot of money rolling off the books, all signs point to the Cubs holding onto a bunch of that surplus.

So if Lester is to return, it’ll have to be on some kind of deal that sees him take a league minimum salary to pair with his buyout. Either that or they work out a hasty extension to void the buyout and pay him a similar amount over two seasons. But can the team trust Lester to perform as even a No. 5 starter for another year or two?

Between Lester and Marquez, it feels as though the Cubs are stuck between their past and future and aren’t moving decisively in either direction. They’ve said multiple times that they didn’t want to recreate 2016, yet [gestures vaguely at all of this]. They’ve also vowed to be more aggressive with pitching development, yet [stares wistfully at South Bend’s roster]. The Cubs lack identity right now and they have neither the money to buy a new one nor the boldness to create one.

But hey, maybe I’m just feeling salty after seeing a bunch of low-risk, low-reward moves and an offense that looks dead in the water. Perhaps ownership and the front office are finally blowing that smoke screen people have tried to tell me for years they’re setting up. It’d be pretty cool if all this crying poor was really a three-year long con meant to shock the world in the season before the collective bargaining agreement expires. Yeah, that’d actually be super neat.

For now, I’ll just keep pining for a young southpaw to light things up and an old southpaw to have one more shot at pitching in front of the fans at Wrigley.

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