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A few thoughts on the Cubs selling at the 2021 trading deadline

What happens if the team goes on a winning streak out of the break?

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Once upon a time there was a Chicago Cubs team that entered the All-Star break two games under .500, tied with the Cardinals in the NL Central and several games out of first place. Management had dropped strong hints that pending free agents might be dealt before the trading deadline at the end of July.

This describes the 2021 Cubs perfectly, but the phrasing I used in the paragraph above gives you a hint that I’m not talking about this year’s squad.

That hint is correct. The description above fits the 2017 Cubs, too. After winning the World Series in 2016, the ‘17 Cubs had a bad case of World Series hangover and entered the All-Star break 43-45, tied with St. Louis and 5½ games behind the Milwaukee Brewers, who were in first place.

It wasn’t specifically stated, but there were rumors that if the ‘17 Cubs didn’t turn things around quickly in the second half, Jake Arrieta and Wade Davis, scheduled to be free agents at the end of the season, would be traded.

That year’s Cubs came roaring out of the break with a six-game winning streak and went 49-25 overall after the break, winning the NL Central by six games with a 92-70 record,

Did I write this article to say that the 2021 Cubs are going to do the same and shock the baseball world by winning the NL Central?

Let’s look at what’s happened so far this year. The 2021 Cubs went 26-11 from May 4 through June 13 after a 12-16 start. That’s a .703 winning percentage, better than the .662 mark the Cubs posted after the All-Star break in 2017. This year has been a weird mix for the Chicago Cubs:

April 1-May 2: 12-16 (.429)
May 4-June 13: 26-11 (.702)
June 14-July 11: 6-19 (.240)

Now you explain that to me. The 2021 Cubs didn’t have a hot streak for one or two weeks, they played championship-level baseball for six weeks and appeared as if they were going to compete in the division until the wheels fell off over the last 25 games.

The parallels between 2017 and 2021 aren’t exact, of course. The Cubs are farther behind now (eight games) than they were in 2017 (5½ games) and unlike 2017, now there’s another team (the Reds) in between the Cubs and first place. It would be a much harder thing to overcome that and, say, get to 92-70. That would require a 48-24 (.667) second half, something that would appear extremely unlikely.

Four days ago, Cubs President of Baseball Operations Jed Hoyer said he’s ready to sell:

“We were certainly fully on the buy side of this transaction, and everyone was calling about that,” Hoyer said of where things stood a couple of weeks ago. “And obviously people are now calling to see which players are available, so it’s a very different scenario than we expected. Life comes at you fast. Eleven days ago is not where we were mentally, and, obviously, 11 games certainly changes a lot of things.”

He’s absolutely right, as we stand here during the All-Star break.

But let me give you a what-if.

The Cubs come out of the break with their next 10 games against teams under .500, and six of those against the worst team in the major leagues, the Diamondbacks, who entered the break 40 (!) games under .500 (26-66).

What if the Cubs go 8-2 in those 10 games and find themselves at that point, say, three or four games behind the Brewers? What if guys like Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Javier Báez, free agents-to-be, suddenly go on hot streaks and play up to their career norms?

Does Hoyer sell at that point? Or does Cubs management think they can hang with the Brewers and Reds for the rest of the year and sneak into the postseason? The answer isn’t as easy as you think.

Do I think this will happen? Probably not. On the other hand, that 26-11 record over six weeks...

In 2017, the Cubs did not sell. In fact, just before the deadline they had made the major deal with the White Sox that brought Jose Quintana to the North Side. Quintana pitched well for the Cubs in 2017 (3.74 ERA in 14 starts, 1.3 bWAR), including a key three-hit shutout of the Brewers September 24, though he was not good for the team after that. At the end of July Theo Epstein sent Jeimer Candelario, Isaac Paredes and cash to the Tigers for Alex Avila and Justin Wilson. Avila was of some use, Wilson not so much.

And Arrieta and Davis went to free agency. The Cubs got compensation picks in 2018 for them and selected Cole Roederer and Paul Richan. Roederer is currently hitting .229/.345/.300 in 20 games at Advanced-A South Bend. Richan was sent to the Tigers in the Nick Castellanos deal; he has a 3.72 ERA in eight starts this year for Double-A Erie in the Detroit system.

So... Jed Hoyer will have decisions to make, and there are just 18 days left to make them, as the 2021 trading deadline is July 30.

Do these Cubs have one more winning run in them? As I noted above, probably not.

But that’s why they play the games.


Do the 2021 Cubs have one more winning run in them? Can they possibly get back in contention?

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