With the 2021 trade deadline looming over everything at this point, Chicago Cubs fans wait with anxiety to find out who will officially be on the move. With the team a few games under .500, there’s little hope for a turnaround and the goal at this point is for a quick re-tool to get this club ready to go for 2022.
While this week brings a lot of uncertainty and plenty of questions, as we look toward next season, the Cubs have a real opportunity to be right in the thick of things come 2022.
The Cubs have just three players on guaranteed contracts for next season, so there will be money to spend. Those names are David Bote, Jason Heyward, Kyle Hendricks. All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel has an option on his deal, but with him linked to trade rumors, there’s a great chance the he’s got a new home by the end of the day on Friday. In other words, the front office is going to be working with a blank slate and a ton of money at its disposal given everyone coming off the books.
Along with these names, look for Nico Hoerner at second, Ian Happ in center, Adbert Alzolay in the rotation and Willson Contreras behind the plate. The future for Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez and Kris Bryant is still unknown but we have to move forward believing all three most likely won’t be around next year. With lots of holes to be filled, let’s look at how the Cubs can do so while making themselves a competitive club.
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The first two things this team needs is an ace to pair with Hendricks and an impact bat. The free agent market for starting pitching isn’t the most enticing, so Hoyer and his front office should look ahead and try to find someone in the trade market, ideally with some club control.
Looking at lefty Matthew Boyd from Detroit, Sonny Gray from the Reds or Jose Berrios from Minnesota would be three high-upside options that could come at a reasonable price. Add one of those names to Hendricks and Alzolay and the front end of the rotation should be able to hold its own down the stretch next year.
In terms of the lineup, there are so many questions marks. Besides Hoerner, we have no clue what the rest of the infield may look like. The best guess for another name would be Patrick Wisdom or David Bote at third. With Rizzo, Baez and Bryant’s futures with the team in doubt, decisions will have to be made for how to fill those huge holes. Corey Seager would be a perfect fit at shortstop and re-signing Rizzo would be a smart move with a minimal first baseman market. Rizzo, Hoerner, Seager and Wisdom to round out the infield wouldn’t be so bad.
As we look to the outfield, that seems a little more in place than we’d like it to be with Happ and Heyward in center and right. The best move this team could make would be to bring back Nick Castellanos. He has an opt-out option and there’s interest both ways so bringing in his All-Star bat would be huge for this group.
Chicago Cubs don’t have to sign up for another painful rebuild
A lineup of Hoerner, Seager, Rizzo, Castellanos, Wisdom, Contreras, Happ and Heyward would be something we could work with and it shows how this team really isn’t that far off, even if they decide to part ways with Bryant and Baez. While this is obviously hypothetical, it really shows how this club shouldn’t have to rebuild and adding a few solid free agents will get them back into contention in no time. While the current group is out of contention, selling off big pieces to build the farm system is the right move.
Look for names in the pipeline to have an impact as well. Names like Brennen Davis, Brailyn Marquez and Justin Steele could find their way onto this roster making an impact in 2022 while getting us excited for the next wave of great Cubs. Chicago will soon find itself with young talent surrounded by veteran leadership, making a strong mix for long-term success.
While it’s a sad time for the organization as we will be parting ways with a group that brought us a championship, it’s an exciting time as well. With the renovation of Wrigley complete and Marquee Network off and running, the stage is set and money is there for the next contender to be built. I have faith 2022 will show us a Cubs team in the hunt for another postseason run.