As last season came to a close and the Cubs were swept out of playoff contention by the St. Louis Cardinals in September, questions immediately turned to the Cubs’ core of players and what types of trades the Cubs might be expected to make in the offseason. Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javier Báez, and Kyle Schwarber are all free agents in 2022. Willson Contreras hits free agency in 2023. While there have been rumors that the Cubs have tried to extend some of their young talent in the last few offseasons, the only major extension they actually got done was a deal to keep Kyle Hendricks in Chicago until 2025.
Many people thought the Cubs would try to make a deal with one of their young stars to extend their contention window this past offseason. But despite persistent rumors involving Bryant and Contreras, as in previous years no one met Theo’s price and we are about to embark on a 60-game season with a new manager at the helm and one more chance for this group of Cubs players to put together a championship run.
Can they do it? I believe so. As I wrote yesterday the offense is as potent as any offense in baseball and the pitching has the ability to put together solid stretches. The bullpen is substantially improved, with a lot of high priced aging talent off the roster and younger guys with better stuff in their place.
The thing is, this season is really Theo’s last chance to sell on some of these players if the team doesn’t look like it’s coming together. At the end of last season I projected the team would win more than 90 games or fewer than 75. It’s not that I think this particular crew is a sub-.500 team, I just thought if they looked like they were headed for .500 again, Theo would have to pull the trigger on some deals that would send them into a rebuild.
That situation hasn’t changed, but the backdrop of the pandemic and a shortened season means those decisions have to be made based on 35 games worth of data rather than 107 games worth of data. Additionally, it’s not clear how other teams will value players for a shortened season during a pandemic. The risks of trading for an impact bat or arm are substantially higher when you may lose that player for the entire season if they test positive for COVID-19 or the season is cancelled late due to a large outbreak.
Admittedly, the Cubs are not the only team that will have tough decisions in front of them if baseball makes it to the trade deadline in 2020. But like all things in 2020 the trade deadline is going to be unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, and it comes in a make or break season for the Chicago Cubs’ core.