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A few thoughts about the future of the Chicago Cubs

What do potential upcoming trades mean for the team going forward?

Photo by Matt Dirksen/Getty Images

The All-Star Game is history. From a Cubs standpoint, Willson Contreras reached base on an error that should have been called a hit (seriously, who charges errors in an All-Star Game?) and Ian Happ drew a walk.

The 2022 Cubs season resumes Friday (some teams will be in action Thursday with games rescheduled due to the lockout).

The two Cubs All-Stars, Contreras and Happ, are widely rumored to be on the trading block and might not be Cubs after August 2 (this year’s trade deadline), or perhaps even sooner. Other Cubs who might be dealt include Drew Smyly, David Robertson, Mychal Givens and Chris Martin.

With the team 22 games under .500, it’s clearly a rebuild for the Cubs whether or not President of Baseball Operations Jed Hoyer acknowledges that or says it publicly.

This article isn’t intended to project what sort of returns the Cubs might get for those players, though you can certainly discuss that. Personally, I’d still rather see the Cubs sign Contreras to a contract extension and there’s at least one report that hints that might still be possible:

Because if you are building the “Next Great Cubs Team,” as Hoyer has called it, why wouldn’t you want the best catcher in the league as part of it? Why wouldn’t you want to retain Happ, who is having a fine year and who is under team control for one more year?

Rather, I want to talk about something that’s a bit squishy-feely, and I know that’s not how some of you look at building a baseball team.

In just three weeks’ time in July 2021, the Cubs traded away nine players who were on the Opening Day roster (yes, nine, in chronological order: Joc Pederson, Andrew Chafin, Anthony Rizzo, Ryan Tepera, Javier Báez, Trevor Williams, Kris Bryant, Craig Kimbrel and Jake Marisnick). In doing so, yes, the team received a haul of prospects, some of whom are quite good. But they also lost many years’ worth of institutional memory. When Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon were hired, one of the stated reasons for those hires was to change the culture of “lovable losers” that had infused the franchise for decades. They did so in just a few years, winning the World Series.

What’s left from that? There are just three players remaining from that World Series team, Contreras, Kyle Hendricks and Jason Heyward, and the latter two have been injured and unproductive recently. If you go to great lengths to create a winning culture in a clubhouse and indeed, through an entire franchise, doesn’t it make sense to keep some of it around? Sure, there were issues late in Maddon’s tenure, one of the reasons his contract wasn’t extended, and many of Theo’s latter moves as President of Baseball Operations didn’t work.

How is Hoyer going to build that “Next Great Cubs Team” without that sort of institutional memory? Beyond the three Cubs World Series players remaining, the Cubs have four other players on their current active roster who have played in a World Series: Robertson (2009 Yankees), Smyly (2021 Braves), Martin (2021 Braves) and Yan Gomes (2016 Cleveland, 2019 Nationals), and three of those guys might be gone by August. Much of the rest of the roster is, as you know, made up of young players, many with less than a year’s worth of MLB experience. There are several with talent (Christopher Morel, in particular), but no postseason experience. When Theo’s young players (Rizzo, Báez, Bryant, Kyle Schwarber) came to the big leagues, he supplemented them with players with lots of playoff experience (Jon Lester, Ben Zobrist, John Lackey, among others).

Let me make it clear: The Cubs had to make the deals they made in 2021. Keeping the World Series core wasn’t working. But in addition to rebuilding a roster, Hoyer and his baseball ops team also has to rebuild clubhouse culture almost from scratch.

We have been told that Hoyer didn’t spend all the money he was budgeted for 2022 and that money has been rolled into the 2023 budget. It seems as if the team could be positioned for major spending this offseason, which would be a signal they intend to try to at least compete next year. (Part of that spending could be extending Contreras, no?)

I realize I’ve been rambling a bit here. The point is: I don’t think you can rip down that much of a winning team and not have a feeling of “starting over,” almost like an expansion team. Again, there is talent in the Cubs minor-league system, headed by guys like Pete Crow-Armstrong and Brennen Davis, but we might not know how those players perform in the big leagues for two or three years. Here’s hoping I’m wrong and that Hoyer and his baseball ops staff know what they’re doing. It’s also hard to really give David Ross a rating for how he’s doing as a field manager, because he has had such huge turnover in the players Hoyer has given him.

For now, we have a couple of weeks worth of “hugwatch,” waiting for several Chicago Cubs to be traded away. We’ll have much more on that, of course, as the trade deadline approaches.

The last thing I wanted to say about the Cubs’ future is this: The team appears to be operating now with profit as its primary motive, with winning secondary. To me, that’s not how a MLB team should be run. No one begrudges the Ricketts family making money on the Cubs. But they need to at least try to win. That hasn’t been the case since mid-2021. Successful MLB teams, such as the Yankees, Dodgers and even the mid-market Cardinals, appear to be able to both profit and win. The Cubs need to figure out how to do both as well.


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