For a variety of reasons, you shouldn’t expect a new-look Cubs team in 2021.
For the third time in as many years, change is in the air at Wrigley Field. An abrupt postseason exit could spell the end of the line for members of this Cubs core – and fans are ready to move past the group that brought a title and three consecutive NLCS appearances to the North Side.
At his end-of-season presser, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein alluded to ‘significant’ changes – which, frankly at this point, seem quite necessary. In his own words from the past, this offense is ‘broken’ and that was made clearer than ever as we watched the lowly Miami Marlins sweep the Cubs right out of the postseason.
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"“We have not performed up to our expectations offensively,” Epstein said, “and especially at the most important times of year. And sort of simply hoping for a better outcome moving forward doesn’t seem like a thoughtful approach. So, embracing some change, even significant changes, is warranted.”"
It was a year of lows for many of the team’s biggest names. Javier Baez looked completely and utterly lost without access to video in the dugout or fans in the stands. Former MVP Kris Bryant battled through injuries for most of the year and, even when he was in the lineup, rarely looked like his old self.
In today’s game, batting average isn’t everything. That being said, when Kyle Schwarber (.188), David Bote (.200), Baez (.203) and Bryant (.206) spent the majority of the year at or below the Mendoza Line, odds are the offense isn’t going to have much success.
Such was the case with Chicago. After a scorching 13-3 start, the bats took us on a roller coaster ride filled with a whole lot more lows than highs. Creating runs looked flat-out difficult on a nightly basis. Which brings us back to the idea of major turnover on this Cubs roster.
Am I saying the front office should simply roll with this group again in 2021? No. But on the other hand, I don’t know how many franchise-altering moves are going to be out there this winter. There’s tremendous uncertainty in the game as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on. Will fans be allowed back in stadiums next year? We hope so – but it’s far from a sure thing.
Without the promise of fans (and the tremendous revenue streams that come with them), there’s no chance Tom Ricketts starts writing checks this winter. He’s cut costs wherever he can during the pandemic and it shouldn’t surprise anyone if player payroll comes next.
"“The only thing I can I can acknowledge is that we’re in a period of great uncertainty,” Epstein said of the team’s payroll. “We need to be versatile. We need we need to be adjustable and we need to be effective, despite the uncertainty [of] the landscape.”"
Pair the league-wide uncertainty about the financial outlook for the sport with half a dozen underperforming star players and you have a recipe for a very difficult offseason for Epstein and the front office.
Without money, you can’t make a splash in free agency. With your star players’ trade value at an all-time low, it’s hard to swing a blockbuster trade without it simply being a salary dump with no real return.
If change is, indeed, coming to the Chicago Cubs at long last, it’ll take one last work of wizardry from Epstein on his way out of town. Because there’s certainly no clear path to re-making this roster.