The Cubs faced a reckoning after the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. In the final analysis, several factors led to only one logical path forward.
On one hand is six consecutive winning seasons from 2015-2020 with a combined 505-364 win-loss record, three division titles, five postseason appearances that include winning three NLDS series in a row, an NCLS series win and the 2016 World Series victory. Not since the 1930s had a Cubs team done anywhere near as well.
Cubs saw their window close abruptly; now it’s time to look to the future
Staring down the Cubs in 2021 was one of the highest payrolls in baseball dating back to 2017, exceeding the competitive balance tax threshold in 2019 and 2020 and heading in that direction in 2021. The club also faced core players who hadn’t developed and others who were underperforming – all while nearing their end of team control.
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Compounding those considerations was the impact of the pandemic in 2020, the unknown status of the 2021 season and a Collective Bargaining Agreement that expires after this season. The window wasn’t closing anymore. It had already closed.
There is no doubt the Cubs are in reboot mode. To recap, since the end of the 2020 season, Jon Lester’s contract was bought out, Kyle Schwarber and Albert Almora were non-tendered, Yu Darvish and the best backup catcher in baseball Victor Caratini were traded for one year of Zach Davies and four minor leaguers who hadn’t played above rookie ball.
The major league acquisitions so far are Joc Pederson, a left-handed bat whose numbers suggest he should strictly be a platoon guy, pitchers Trevor Williams, Kohl Stewart and Andrew Chafin, catcher Austin Romine and waiver claim infielder Sergio Alcantara. Right-hander Shelby Miller was given a non-guaranteed contract and lefty Rex Brothers, reliever Joe Biagini, outfielder Nick Martini and corner infielder Patrick Wisdom were all signed to minor league deals.
Plus, I would not be surprised if one or more of the core four (Rizzo, Bryant, Baez and Contreras) were gone by the trade deadline. These are not the moves of a team looking to compete, or even tread water. These are moves that indicate the start of a reboot.
A rebuild or reboot won’t be as painful or lengthy this time around
My estimate for the start of the next run is 2023. Why? Two words: Jason Heyward. Heyward and his $20+ million AAV contract leave the payroll after 2023 and that will open huge opportunities from there. In addition, Kyle Hendricks will be in the last year of his $14 million AAV deal, assuming the Cubs don’t trade in the meantime.
So a couple of seasons of sub-.500 ball in 2021-2022, a restock of the farm system, followed by the start of the next six-to-seven-year run in 2023. I can live with that.