Cubs need to be more open to extensions with the next generation
After an emotional day at the ballpark on Tuesday, it feels as if Willson Contreras and Ian Happ have played their last game at Wrigley in a Chicago Cubs uniform. The team has been actively discussing Contreras in trades with the Mets and Astros while Happ is drawing near league-wide interest. It didn’t have to be this way, but here we are.
Given their potential value to the next great Cubs team, it would’ve made all the sense in the world to extend either of them. Yet, neither heard a word from the front office regarding a long-term deal to stay in town. If there is one thing that has to change with the future generation, including guys like Nico Hoerner, Christopher Morel and Nelson Velazquez, it’s that this organization needs to do better when it comes to extensions for their homegrown talent.
It’s fair to argue that, regarding Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Javier Baez, the Epstein and Hoyer regimes offered them all fair deals compared to what they received. I don’t fault either side for that. However, this extension drought is frustrating considering only six homegrown players since the 80s have signed one. It’s frustrating from a team-construction perspective to see the Cubs constantly move on from players that they know can be talented and could help them in the future and it inspires fan cynicism to see their best players almost always leave within six years or less.
Plenty of teams have taken the route of extending players earlier on in their careers. The recent Yordan Alvarez mega-deal comes to mind in this regard. The Astros signed him to a six-year, $115 million deal after he proved himself across his first three seasons in Houston. It’s not a bad idea for the Cubs to go for more deals in this vein both as a show of trust in their young stars and as a way to lock down positions for the long term without having to wait for prospects or free agency.
Cubs shouldn’t be so averse to spending on the players they already have
The Astros in particular stand out for how they locked in their core with long-term deals and then built around them with free agents and prospects. As they’ve shown, it’s a method for sustainable winning with Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Alvarez all continuing to perform while new additions like Kyle Tucker and Jeremy Pena slot in for their losses. This is what the Cubs should strive for and, frankly, they have the money to lock in a few homegrown core pieces to build around.
Already, the team has one candidate to consider in Hoerner. While he still has three years left after 2022, there should already be some consideration for a long-term union. He plays a premium position at shortstop and is having the best year of his young career, continuing an upward trend in his development with excellent defense and a 114 wRC+.
I’m not saying the Cubs should extend every good player that rises through their farm system nor that they need to offer a big contract immediately. All I hope is that Hoyer does not remain so averse to extensions when there are players that seem likely to help in the long-term. We don’t have to go through the process of finding replacements for these players every single time they reach that final year of arbitration.