If the Chicago Cubs are content watching Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo walk out the door at season’s end – or if the team cuts its losses and trades these former franchise cornerstones this summer, normally that would signify a lengthy rebuild on the horizon.
But given the sheer depth of this winter’s free agent class, that’s not necessarily the case. Yes, this trio represent a ton of star power and have ties to a wave of nostalgia that’s unmatched in the hearts and minds of Cubs fans. Jed Hoyer will have the opportunity to turn the page almost immediately, though – helping usher in a new era on the North Side.
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At shortstop, this might be the deepest free agent class ever. Baez joins the likes of Carlos Correa, Trevor Story atop the group – and, at least in theory, Chicago has the financial muscle to compete with suitors for any of the three. Given Baez’s offensive inconsistencies, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest to see the team go in a different direction here. Let’s just hope the different direction is taking a one-year flier on Leury Garcia.
The Cubs are battling through a rotation that was assembled like Frankenstein, a hodge podge of veterans and reclamation projects with some rare youth sprinkled in. After years of consistency, Kyle Hendricks looks totally lost (6.23 ERA in seven starts) – and there’s no real leader on the staff at this point in the year.
Cubs can find starting pitching solutions in the free agent market
Again, free agency could prove to be an immediate answer for this organization. If you’re not looking for lengthy, multi-year contracts, the likes of Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke and Justin Verlander are all free agents at year’s end. Of course, several years ago, Verlander wanted to come pitch for the Cubs – so you can’t write off that relationship.
All are on the wrong side of 30 by a wide margin, but represent some of this generation’s greatest starting pitchers. Pairing one of these guys with Hendricks and Adbert Alzolay give you a pretty solid jumping off point heading into 2022.
Based on the team’s actions in the last year or so – most notably the shocking youth of the return in the Yu Darvish trade last winter – it’s hard to envision Hoyer turning it over and remaining competitive next year. But the free agents out there give him that option. Now it’s a matter of waiting and seeing if he’s ready to go down that road or if he’s ready to rebuild the Cubs from top-to-bottom.