If Theo Epstein plays his cards right, the Cubs could rebuild in short order.
No one likes the thought of a rebuild. The last time we saw one on the North Side, it meant regular 90-100 loss campaigns and baseball that was oftentimes painful to take in. Of course, on the other side of that rebuild, we saw a World Series championship and arguably the most rewarding era in Chicago Cubs history.
But after a prompt exit in the Wild Card Series and an offense that gave first-year manager David Ross more questions than answers, change is afoot. Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein made that clear in his end-of-season presser.
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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.”"
What will that change look like? That’s yet to be seen, although it seems safe to assume a lot of it will revolve around four key players entering their final year of team control: Anthony Rizzo (assuming Chicago picks up his option), Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber.
All four guys struggled this season. Baez ranked as one of the worst offensive players in all of Major League Baseball, looking lost at the plate. Bryant battled through a myriad of injuries yet again while Schwarber and Rizzo simply underperformed by most standards.
As fans clamor for change once again, it’ll be these guys who determine the future of the franchise. No, I’m not saying the Cubs will simply run it back (although they might) – but the future could, instead, be shaped by moves involving these guys either this winter or ahead of next year’s trade deadline.
"“(…) One of those is especially relevant in our situation: a one-year deal for a really talented player is a valuable thing,” Epstein said. “That’s to our benefit both with what we can do in constructing the 2021 team having an additional year of control on certain players, and also potentially to our benefit in the trade market as we look to make some changes.”"
Financials are murky, at best – not just for the Cubs, but for the league at-large. Sorry, but don’t hold your breath on a press conference introducing Trevor Bauer or George Springer at Gallagher Way. It’s not going to happen. If anything, ownership will likely look to shed payroll this winter.
If the Cubs are a middle-of-the-pack team again in 2021, Epstein could look to trade one (or multiple) pieces to a contender looking for some pop. Adding a productive Baez or Bryant to a lineup can change a club’s entire outlook and boost postseason hopes.
It’s too soon to tell which path the Cubs will take. But they can’t afford to keep rolling the dice with the same guys and expect a different result. Change is needed – now it’s just a matter of what that change will look like.
Change doesn’t necessarily mean a total teardown. If Epstein plays his hand right, he could turn these free agents-to-be into the next wave of young talent at the Friendly Confines.