If you ask Bleacher Report, the Cubs – and the NL Central – are poised to tank.
We’ve known for some time now that the NL Central is likely to be the weakest division in baseball next year and the Chicago Cubs might well win the crown by simply showing up. Apparently, Bleacher Report and specifically writer Zachary Rymer agree as he ranked four of the five clubs in the division a four or higher in his tank ratings. For reference, the scale only goes as high as five.
The Cubs, Cardinals and Reds are all rated at a four while the Pirates are a five which isn’t surprising seeing as how they finished last in the entire league last year and just traded away Josh Bell, as well.
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As for the other three, Rymer noted the significant subtractions from each team, payroll struggles and likelihood of them all to sell at the deadline should any chance at winning the division disappear. Again, this is nothing new, but it’s yet another vote of no confidence in this division where the Cubs and nearly all of their rivals are in the same spot.
Outside of the Brewers, who earned a two for their likelihood to tank, the Cubs and their other rivals are rich with potential deadline trade assets. Rymer sees the North Siders as an already-rebuilding team, but I’d see this as the point where the team commits to a path. Deal cornerstones Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez and it’s a full scale teardown. Focus more on flipping low-cost pieces and marketing players less likely to be a part of the future like Craig Kimbrel, Kris Bryant and Willson Contreras (if they’re still around by then) and it’s not a complete restart.
This did make me wonder where this team would be in a stronger division, however. In the NL West, the Rockies are rated five despite a strong offense anchored by Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story.
Yet they find themselves in a payroll crunch as well with significant holes that they can’t and won’t fill. They aren’t that dissimilar to the Cubs pre-Darvish trade and Schwarber non-tender. Frankly, this rebuild/retool might be a lot more aggressive if nearly all of the division weren’t considering the same thing.
I see this article mostly as yet another damning account of the dire state of the division. Every other division in baseball has a mix of teams going for it, on the fence, or straight up tanking, but not a complete mess of unwillingness to compete.
The NL Central makes the option of tanking unsavory given the low bar to clear in order to take home the crown. I can’t help but wonder where Chicago would be if it were sandwiched in the NL West with the Padres and Dodgers instead.