Cubs: Did success come too soon for a group of young players?

San Francisco Giants v New York Mets
San Francisco Giants v New York Mets / Jim McIsaac/GettyImages

Six years have now passed. For those of us who waited decades, it still seems like a dream. On November 2, 2016, the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. As many as six million people attended a parade and rally, which was ranked the seventh-largest gathering of human beings in history. Travis Wood appeared on a pretty chilly day shirtless and was out of baseball 16 months later. Nevertheless, the next great sports dynasty was born - or so we thought.

Mike Ditka and the Chicago Bears won the Super Bowl in 1986, and it's still hard to believe went one-and-done. Maybe the football gods never forgave the team for never allowing Walter Payton to score in a 46-10 victory. The Bulls had two three-peats including six championships during the 1990s under Phil Jackson. In 2005, Ozzie Guillen led the White Sox to their first World Series championship since 1917, a span of 88 years, and they too were one and done. The Blackhawks won three Stanley Cup titles from 2010-2015.

Those 2016 Cubs were very good, built around a collection of veterans and a group of young and exciting hitters. Chicago wound up making the postseason three or the next four years, but have only won one postseason game since. The dynasty was never to be. Dynasties do still exist in the 21st century. The Los Angeles Lakers and New England Patriots have won five titles since the dawn of the new millenium, the San Antonio Spurs, four, and the Boston Red Sox, Blackhawks and San Francisco Giants, three. The Giants were pretty dominant in the 2010s winning in the even years of 2010, 2012, and 2014. No MLB team has won consecutive World Series since the Yankees did from 1998-2000. It’s hard to repeat.

Why didn’t our Cubbies? A whole bunch of reasons. Other teams get better, injuries occur, and there are a variety of factors out anyone’s control over a 162-game season. I have always wondered, did the young guys win too soon? Did ballplayers many of us once perceived as great at one time or another end up as just really good, rather than extraordinary?

Cubs dynasty never materialized as we all had hoped

Only Javier Baez had a better season after 2016 when he was not really a regular; Willson Contreras doesn’t count. I am not placing blame here. There is still 2016 stuff hanging in my home and probably always will be. By the time those leaves you may be raking return in the spring, the entire core will probably be a memory, with Contreras set to hit free agency once the World Series wraps. It is interesting that the team didn’t do whatever it took to keep any of those guys, but the front office knows more than we do on many fronts. No one but the brass, players and, of course, agents know for sure, but I think many took lesser contracts than they could have received at one time at Wrigley.

Of Baez, Contreras, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber, only Rizzo was older than 24, being 27 at the time. That’s pretty young to handle that much fortune and fame, everybody’s so different, I haven’t changed? Remember: that year, Baez played more second than short, Contreras came up midway through the season and Schwarber played in two games, blew out his knee, and re-emerged in dramatic fashion during the World Series.

The winning too soon argument gets muddled amidst stats and date. Before diving in, and I cam only assess from afar, but it did no good for Russell. His off-field behavior has kept him out of MLB since 2019 and he's still only 28 years old. Curiously, he still had a higher career WAR than Schwarber: 11.3-11.2.

Bryant’s meteoric rise peaked in 2016. He was the National College Player of the Year in 2013, Minor League Player of the Year in 2014, NL Rookie of the Year in 2015 and National League MVP in 2016. That is incredible. He rose to the mountaintop, but staying there was difficult. He followed it up with really good seasons, but not great. I don’t know the man so can’t judge, but with a father who built him into a hitting machine since childhood, did burnout become a factor? His father did begin coaching him at the age of five. He’s human and, of course, injuries played a big role here, too.

Baez got better once he became a regular and fan favorite. His best years were 2018-2019, but he was always such a dichotomy. As a fan, I saw a guy make incredible plays with his glove and pull off crazy stuff as a baserunner, but would boot routine grounders and flail at breaking stuff in the left-handed batter's box. Rizzo, the elder, was more consistent, and has seemingly found a home in the Bronx with the short right field porch. Schwarber has had ups and downs, and showcased NL-leading power in 2022, while leading the league in strikeouts. But, then again, he's in the World Series, so that's what matters in the end.

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One and done. I still can't help but wonder what could have been?