The Chicago Cubs 2020 season ended when they were eliminated from the playoffs last Friday by the Miami Marlins. Chicago really struggled to make contact at the plate. In the two losses versus Miami, they had nine hits and just one run. This was a story all too familiar for the Cubs, and has been a reoccurring thing in the past three seasons. Their stars haven’t shown up when it matters most. These were the same players that carried the team to their first World Series championship in 108 years.
Many people think that this season was the final run with Chicago’s young core and rightfully so. Chicago has underperformed significantly in the seasons following their World Series win. They went from a potential dynasty in the making to fringe contenders. There is a lot to unpack heading into an uncertain off-season, here’s the current state of the organization and a look into the future.
We’re disappointed our season ended before we achieved our goal.
We’re humbled by the continued support of our amazing fans throughout a difficult year.
We’re hopeful to welcome you to the Friendly Confines next season.
We’re ready for 2021.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) October 2, 2020
Inconsistent Offense, Struggling Stars
Chicago’s biggest flaw has been its lack of production offensively. It is one of the most puzzling situations, considering the talent they have on the roster. On paper, this team should be a pitcher’s nightmare, yet they are the exact opposite. A lineup headlined by Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, and Anthony Rizzo should be incredibly dangerous. Each of them are in what should be their prime years, but they have statistically declined. This season was especially bad across the board. They were all unreliable down the stretch.
Surprisingly, Ian Happ was actually their best hitter this season and it wasn’t even close. Happ led the team in every major category and was even included in some NL MVP talks very early on. While the switch-hitter made great strides, he shouldn’t have been the premier batter on this team. Other than a few other standout players, like Jason Heyward and David Bote, Chicago relied on brilliant starting pitching for most the year. If it weren’t for their consistency at the mound, they probably wouldn’t have even won the division.
Kris Bryant: “This game is extremely hard. Sometimes, I sit back and I watch these games and I’m like, ‘Man, it looks so easy. What are you doing swinging at that? Why didn’t you hit that pitch?’ And then up in the box, it’s a completely different story.”
— Patrick Mooney (@PJ_Mooney) October 3, 2020
This just hasn’t been the same offense that showed up in 2016, and it will be the main reason this team is dismantled. Kris Bryant had perhaps the most disappointing season. He was injured for about half the year, and couldn’t get anything going. He sported a slash line of .206/.293/.351. Obviously, this was a very abnormal season, but Bryant has been somewhat struggling for a while now — at least for his MVP caliber standards. One thing he and the whole roster has struggled with is the fastball. In fact, they were the sixth-worst team in baseball at hitting heaters. Sixto Sanchez took advantage of that in their recent elimination game.
The organization has tried to bring in several different hitting coaches to fix this once high-powered offense — to no avail. The reason Bryant is the main focus, as opposed to Baez or Rizzo, is because of his eventual contract demands. Not to mention, he’s already been included in numerous trade rumors in the past. It appears the front office is more than willing to move their star third baseman compared to others.
Tough Decisions Ahead
The Cubs have to figure out which players are in their future plans, and who they need to think about moving before it’s too late. They don’t want to enter a full-on rebuild, but they also can’t keep this roster as is, it would be detrimental to their success. It is clear that substantial changes are needed, but who will be the person to make the tough decisions? David Ross should be back for his second season as manager, but he can only manage the players he is given.
Team president Theo Epstein is entering his final contractual year with the organization, and it’s very unclear whether he will remain with Chicago after the 2021 season. This has to be the main priority for team owner Tom Ricketts before anything else. There are believed to be two options: Epstein leaves this winter and doesn’t finish out his contract, or he stays to help usher in new leadership. The Ricketts family will need to consider every option. Jed Hoyer seems like the obvious replacement right now. With the future of the team at such uncertainty, they need someone in charge willing to pull the trigger on big deals, if they want the Cubs to continue to compete.
Chicago’s Financial Situation
It’s already been noted that the Cubs are very unlikely to give Kris Bryant a massive contract extension, and they’ve been very reluctant with Javier Baez. Both players enter the free-agent market after next season. Realistically, with MLB’s current financial climate, only one of them will remain in Chicago. The other will be on the trade block. Baez seems more likely to take a team-friendly deal, and he is more of a marketable player. Either way, their values have gone down significantly due to their poor performance as of late, but there will be plenty of suitors willing to bet on their talent.
It’s similar to the Boston Red Sox and the Mookie Betts situation. They weren’t going to give him an extension, so they traded him to the Los Angeles Dodgers. They were able to get some value for him, instead of letting him walk in free agency. Betts was playing much better than any of Chicago’s stars though, which made him a much more sought-after player. Still, a potential contender might go all-in for one of the Cubs’ stars.
Kris Bryant's final numbers this year (including postseason):
• 139 AB
• .194 BA
• 4 HR
• 11 RBI
• 10 XBH
• 42 Ks pic.twitter.com/aAiZ3YKzhU
— Danny Vietti (@DannyVietti) October 2, 2020
As for Anthony Rizzo, he is undoubtedly the face of the franchise. He has been the heart and soul of this team for years. It would be very surprising to see him traded, but crazier things have happened. He has one year remaining as well, which is a team option worth $16.5 million dollars. Chicago will pay their star first baseman in 2021, but what happens after that is up in the air.
Another notable player in the same position is Jon Lester, and it’s much less likely that the organization picks up his team option. Lester has done so much for this team in his six-year stint, but he may have pitched his last game as a Cub. They could try to bring him back on a much more team-friendly deal after they pay him a $10 million buyout. A few other notable names heading into the last year of their contracts are Craig Kimbrel and Kyle Schwarber. They are two more possible trade pawns going forward.
Chicago’s roster is guaranteed to look different next season, even the starting rotation is set for change. Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks should still be featured at the top, but Chicago will be losing Tyler Chatwood and Jose Quintana. This means including Lester, there will be some major roles to fill within the Cubs’ pitching staff. Alec Mills will hold onto a rotation spot, after an impressive 2020 season. Other than that, there are some big vacancies.
In addition, Adbert Alzolay looks primed to spend his first full season in the MLB — barring any setbacks. Chicago has a few other pitchers in their farm system that could possibly round out their rotation, but none of them look extremely promising. There will also be plenty of veteran guys available in free agency, many of them might be willing to sign a team-friendly deal with the Cubs. A couple of interesting options: 35-year old Jake Arrieta and 36-year old Jeff Samardzija. They’re both in the final years of their career, and once excelled in Chicago. It’d be nice to see one of them retire as a Cub while giving the team some quality starts in a small role.
Early indications show that Chicago Cubs will be looking to trade Schwarber and Bryant. It’s too early to list potential suitors, but they are the obvious choices. Although, the player with the highest trade value right now is Willson Contreras. He looks like a top five catcher, especially after he improved his framing behind the plate. He ranks with the best at his position with the bat as well. Contreras still has two years left of arbitration, but if Chicago is looking to shake up the roster, this could be the way to do it. He brings a lot of energy to each game and has a cannon for an arm at the backstop. Not too many teams would pass on him, if the Cubs were to include him in offers.
The main goal shouldn’t be a full rebuild unless Chicago adds a ton of prospects in the process of trading their stars. Their current farm system isn’t very strong, and they seem like they’re just a couple big acquisitions away from being a threat in the NL once again. Ultimately, this team needs to be revived. They can’t waste another season expecting different results, this would just put them in an even deeper hole. There is a difference between being optimistic versus unrealistic. Chicago’s future will depend on the decisions made this off-season.
Message to Cubs Fans
All of this might be tough to hear. Cubs fans thought the 2016 core was destined for more. One thing is for sure, these guys are already Chicago legends. They did the improbable when they broke the 108-year curse, and brought a championship home to Wrigley Field. Their success in the past six seasons has spoiled some long-time fans, who have seen the franchise struggle to compete for most of their lifetime. It will be incredibly tough to see some of the fan-favorite players move on, but all good things must come to an end. It is the end of a great era, arguably one of the best in Cubs’ history. Think of this as a new beginning, and a possible jump start to a bright future. Be happy that it happened, not sad that it is over.
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