There were so many different times when Chicago Cubs fans and media could point to the moment the “Golden Age” on the North Side ended. Even going back to October 2018 when the Cubs fell in October, there were a number of course-changing dates up through last year. This includes Joe Maddon moving on after 2019, getting swept by the Marlins in the 2020 playoffs, Theo Epstein stepping down in November 2020, or the 11-game losing streak last summer. In the end, it all officially ended on July 29 and 30 when Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Javier Baez were traded away at the deadline.
It was an emotional roller coaster that made fans feel so many things. Anger, disgust, sadness, disappointment, relief, excitement, apathy, and so on. Humans are emotional beings, and we tend to have extreme reactions to big changes. Sometimes it takes time for the dust to settle for us to give ourselves a chance to evaluate the situation and give us perspective on the team’s future outlook.
The dust has settled, the plan is a bit more clear, and now fans like myself can fully embrace a new era.
The Cubs future can provide fans with cautious optimism.
2022 will be the official start of the new era. President Jed Hoyer will operate with a refurbished infrastructure, which includes GM Carter Hawkins and assistant GM Ehsan Bokhari. Two guys who were poached from organizations that have had success in player development (Guardians and Astros). Hoyer operated with no GM last season and had to sell veterans for assets in a market that saw teams not want to surrender top prospects like in years past. Scouting and development will be very important, and shakeups within the organization were needed.
This leads into another big aspect of the Cubs future, the farm system. While there is no guarantee of anything when it comes to prospects, especially with how raw a lot of the Cubs farm assets are, but the system is so much deeper now. Seven of the Cubs top-20 prospects were acquired via the trade of a veteran player. The stock on these guys is rising, including on top prospect Brennen Davis who is currently ranked 14th in MLB.com’s top 100 prospects. After 2016 the organization failed to develop sufficient MLB-caliber talent within the system and there will be a new emphasis and approach on that.
There is also an apparent change in team philosophy. While the core got the job done in 2015-2016, including winning that elusive World Series, the fact of the matter is the game passed the Cubs by. They have not won a postseason series since 2017 and teams like the Dodgers and Brewers overcame them. Just look at how the Brewers defense and fireball arms have exploited the Cubs weaknesses over the past three years. Too many holes in the swings, not enough pitchers missing bats and overall were “boom or bust”. Acquiring contact-oriented players like Nick Madrigal, prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong and valuing Nico Hoerner indicate more emphasis on contact. It won’t be the entire offense, but they needed more of it for a while.
Lastly, there is the matter of financials. What has made a lot of Cubs fans cynical about the future has been the recent hesitation from Ricketts to spend going back to 2019. That said, the payroll was greatly reduced in 2021 and then they spent money on hiring more front office people, and they spent on Marcus Stroman before the lockout. There appears to be interest in other free agents. Some might laugh, but I believe the Cubs will spend again. Even if not all this offseason, there will be more high-profile free agents coming.
To sum it up, the Cubs era fell much sooner than anticipated and the Cubs are quickly working to adapt to the league that passed them by. It was hard to say goodbye to our former heroes, they will always hold a special place in Cubs fans hearts, but instead of living in the past the like the Chicago Bears have since 1985 they took the road of change. No promise this will work but all we can do now is embrace the future.