Cubs could be poised for a fire sale at this year’s trade deadline

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /

It looks like the Chicago Cubs will begin the 2021 regular season without a contract extension in place with their three most prominent free agents-to-be. We’ve heard nothing on Kris Bryant or Javier Baez and Anthony Rizzo has stopped talks with the team after they low-balled him with an initial five-year, $70 million offer.

More than half of the Cubs’ current roster is poised to hit free agency at year’s end – which means over the next 12 months, we could see a complete overhaul of the team. It’s conceivable, although hard to envision, a scenario where Bryant, Baez and Rizzo are all gone, even as soon as the trade deadline.

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"“Obviously, it didn’t work out thus far,” Rizzo said. “And that’s OK. I’m at peace with it. I’ve done everything I can, and I’ll continue to do everything I can to be the best player I can be. I look forward to this group.”"

What cannot happen is this. The front office runs it back with that trio in their respective walk years, fail to trade them at the deadline and essentially get nothing in return – with the possible extension of draft pick compensation.

The team’s crop of impending free agent stretches far beyond just the big three, too. A ton of the pitching staff is on one-year deals, including 60 percent of the starting rotation. Jake Arrieta, Trevor Williams and Zach Davies are all entering their final years of team control. Strong first halves from any of these guys could prompt Jed Hoyer to flip them at the deadline.

Cubs: How does the organization spin this to fans and future free agents?

Here’s the problem. The perception surrounding the Cubs right now is pretty clear: they’re not willing to give guys what they’re worth in contract extensions. Now, that could change. There could be a last-minute push to get a deal done with one of these guys before Thursday.

But if Chicago watches these three superstars walk in free agency without ever coming close to locking them down long-term, the damage with fans will be severe. The Ricketts family talked of building a long-term, sustainable winner. Rizzo is the closest thing to a Mr. Cub we’ve seen since Ernie Banks and even he can’t get money from ownership.

Attending a Cubs game is the most expensive ballpark experience in the league. The franchise’s value continues to grow. Despite all this, Chicago refuses to be up front with what they’re doing: trying to reload by losing and not spending money on guys who clearly deserve it.

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That won’t go well in future talks with free agents. Players talk, just like anybody else, and you can bet that if Ricketts, Hoyer and the organization don’t get their act together, there will be long-term consequences.