Cubs Demotions Remind That Success Can Be Fickle

Many Cubs have dealt with the difficult process of being demoted.

Bruce Levine
August 20, 2019 - 7:10 pm
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CHICAGO (670 The Score) -- This Cubs season has reminded of how fickle success in baseball can be.

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Three Cubs who were important contributors on the World Series champions in 2016 have been demoted to the minor leagues at various points. Shortstop Addison Russell opened his season at Triple-A after finishing a domestic violence suspension, then found himself back in Iowa in late July after displaying struggles and a lack of concentration in the big leagues. 

Reliever Carl Edwards Jr. was demoted about a week into the regular season after struggles and eventually traded to the Padres in July. Outfielder Albert Almora Jr. was optioned to Triple-A last Friday after struggling at the plate all season.

Many others have experienced a similar journey. Outfielder Kyle Schwarber was demoted midway through the 2017 season. Outfielder Ian Happ opened this season at Triple-A after a demotion in spring training. 

On Monday evening, it was infielder David Bote who was optioned to Triple-A after he had a rough July at the plate and had struggled defensively recently.

It all adds up to a mounting group of players who at various times have helped the Cubs find success and go deep into the playoffs but who for numerous reasons also haven't lived up to their expected levels of production.

"It's hard to put a finger on one reason," Cubs senior vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod said on Inside the Clubhouse on Saturday. "We had guys who came out and made an immediate impact for a couple of years. That is especially true in contributions to the World Series championships. As we went forward from there, you would expect they would be coming more into their prime and keep improving. Theo (Epstein) has mentioned a lot that development isn't linear. Even when you get to the major leagues, guys will have their struggles. We have seen our players for one reason or another have bigger dips in their performance. We have seen them back to work on a lot of things. This is to help them become the best versions of themselves. They need to learn how to adjust back to the teams adjusting to them."

Some of the demotions have left some Cubs perplexed. When Happ was demoted in March, general manager Jed Hoyer had a long talk with some of the team's veterans to explain what was happening and why, knowing they were confused why a player with 39 homers and an .801 OPS across his first two seasons would be receiving a demotion.

Others have understood, as humbling as a trip to Iowa may be.

"When I got sent down, I needed to be sent down," Schwarber remembered. "For me, it was a good time to take a breath. I was able to step away and refocus. I had a set goal in mind, and I didn't want to come back until I accomplished that goal."

Schwarber believes Almora and Bote will benefit from their regular playing time at Triple-A.

"Look, it's never a good thing," he said of leaving the big leagues. "That initially is the mental hurdle to deal with. You can go to some dark places, and it can be a tough pill to swallow. After those feelings pass, you know it's time to get to work. I reached out to Albert. I am definitely going to reach out to David. We all need that support system when you get down. The teammates here are the best. They all hugged me when I was sent out, and that helped me want to get back with them and win together."

The Cubs have been a tight group during the Joe Maddon era that dates back to 2015, and he helps set the tone with that by being up front with is players in private conversations about what they need to improve. Sometimes those conversations turn into an explanation of why someone is being sent down.

"I normally tell them right away and tell them why," Maddon said. "Then you ask them to give their thoughts on what is happening as well. All of them have been very respectful. It has been a respectful process. It's going to benefit everyone going forward."

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine​.