Chicago Cubs: Theo Epstein, front office face plenty of challenges ahead

(Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)
(Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images) /

At this point, Chicago Cubs fans do not need reminding of just how much the coronavirus pandemic has already altered the 2020 baseball season.

In fact, the Chicago Cubs would ideally be well into their second week of regular season action by now, having already played the home opener at Wrigley Field.

Instead, the community waits with baited breath as MLB grapples with a number of different possibilities, including playing games in Arizona.

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Of course, there is simply no telling whether it is feasible for baseball to begin at any point this season, especially given Dr. Anthony Fauci’s feelings that the virus might be seasonal and might not be totally eradicated.

This is why it was so important for MLB and the Player’s Association to hammer out service-time deals and a number of other stipulations. In essence, players will receive all of the service time they accrued in 2019 in the event the 2020 season is canceled.

Naturally, this is a huge win for players, some of whom could bypass final years of arbitration and enter free agency on schedule, rather than being held back due to cancelation. On the flip side–yes, this is the antagonist business of baseball and service time–it is a tough pill to swallow for the owners, and this is especially true of the Cubs.

Consider: if the 2020 season is canceled, all three of Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Kyle Schwarber will be in their final years of arbitration in 2021 because of accrued service time. Those are three players who, prior to the suspension of play, looked like absolutely vital contributors for a Cubs team looking to rebound from missing the playoffs.

The Cubs had been discussing a contract extension with Baez, but even those talks will have to wait due to the roster freeze put in place by MLB. But there should be less optimism an extension will ever get done.

For instance, why would Baez, Bryant or Schwarber even sniff an extension offer given they will be just one year away from free agency? Sure, they might have interest in extending their careers with the Cubs, but there is also the possibility they bet on themselves and look to field offers on the open market, particularly if they get off to hot starts.

It always seemed likely the Cubs would have to choose who to bring back due to their tight budget, but now there is a real possibility they could be stretched even further from a financial standpoint. If those three choose to ride out the 2021 campaign, the Cubs might have to empty their pockets more than originally intended. There are other implications, as well.

If the season is canceled, the Cubs might have to say goodbye to Jon Lester, who has a $25 million team option next season, and they also lose any trade value they might have had on guys like Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood.

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There was always an uneasy feeling about Chicago’s “window of contention” nearing its end. But it also seems any cancelation could just as easily expedite that process and make the Cubs’ future that much more uneasy.