Where are they now? The Chicago Cubs Firesale Edition
If you do a Google search for the term “lovable losers,” you will find multiple links referring to the Chicago Cubs. Seriously. Google it yourself.
“The Northsiders” were anything but losers from 2015 through 2020. The Cubs posted winning SIX consecutive winning seasons during that time. Yes, the CHICAGO Cubs had six straight winning years. They had not had six straight winning seasons since 1967-72. Before 2015, that was the stretch that many Cubs fans referred to as the team’s golden era. Those Cubs were led by Hall-of-Famers Ernie Banks, Fergie Jenkins, Ron Santo, and Billy Williams. The crazy thing about those particular Cubs teams is that they either finished 2nd or 3rd each of those seasons with – ZERO playoff appearances. That was when only the division leaders qualified for the postseason.
The 2015-2020 versions of the Chicago Cubs constructed by Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer had…just a bit more success. To me, THAT was the golden era of Chicago Cubs baseball. Everyone knows by now that in 2016 the Cubs broke their curse and won the World Series for the first time in 108 years. Of course, they did it in heart-attack HARATAK fashion, coming back from down 3-1 to the Cleveland Indians and winning it in an epic Game 7. That World Series win is obviously the icing on the cake, but there’s more to the story over that six-season stretch.
From 2015 through 2020, the Chicago Cubs…
– Won an NL Pennant (2016)
– Won a World Series (2016)
– Won 3 Central Division Titles (2016, 2017, 2020)
– Made it to three straight NLCS series (2015-2017)
– Qualified for the postseason 5 times (2015-2018, 2020)
And yet, they SHOULD have won more. Those teams were stacked! They had the 2015 NL Rookie of the Year and 2016 NL MVP in Kris Bryant. They had the 2015 NL Cy Young Winner doing his best Bob Gibson impersonation in Jake Arrieta. You could pencil in first baseman Anthony Rizzo for a 25-30 home run and 90-100 RBI every year. Rizzo was a perennial gold glover at first and the team’s defacto captain. The Cubs also had young stars in Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber, and Willson Contreras. Don’t forget about former ace Jon Lester. Others came and gone, but this was the core from 2015-2020, other than Arrieta, who left as a free agent after the 2017 season.
I’ll say it again. Those Cubs teams should have won more. Despite winning 95 games in 2018, they blew a sizeable division lead to the Milwaukee Brewers and lost the NL Central by a single game. The Cubs then lost to the Colorado Rockies in the Wild Card game to end their 2018 season. They didn’t make the postseason in 2019 altogether. There are many reasons why those Cubs underachieved (injuries, underachieving, the front office mortgaging the franchise’s future for one ring), but that’s a story for a different day. That may be why the Cubs’ front office struggled to extend any of these guys. Bryant, Rizzo, and Baez were reportedly offered contract extensions at some point. They must have been that far apart on the numbers since NONE of the re-signed in Chicago.
The contracts of Rizzo, Bryant, and Baez were set to expire after the 2021 season. Fans wanted those three to stay in Chicago, and there had been speculation on their futures for a couple of years by that point. It was time to make some decisions on those three players in addition to valuable players, including Contreras, closer Craig Kimbrel, and 2020 NL Cy Young runner-up Yu Darvish. Were the Chicago Cubs headed for a rebuild or would they try to keep their core intact and build around them? The Cubs decided to trade Darvish to the San Diego Padres prior to the 2021 season. They elected not to re-sign Lester and Schwarber.
It was likely that a firesale was coming. The Chicago Cubs then surprised most people by competing at the start of the 2021 season. They had a stretch in May where they won 9 of 11 games. Chicago was 11 games above .500 on June 13th. The Cubs either had the NL Central lead or were within a game of first place from May 25st-June 25th. The question was: Could the Cubs actually make one more run with this core group?
The answer to that was no. HELL no.
The Cubs then went on to lose 11 games in a row after that and hovered about .500 until July 29th. Then the firesale began. In fact, it escalated quickly. Anthony Rizzo was the first to be traded. Then Javy Baez was traded. Both were headed to New York to play for the Yankees (Rizzo) and Mets (Baez). Kris Bryant was then traded to the San Francisco Giants. Then, embattled closer Craig Kimbrel was traded across town to the White Sox at the deadline.
Just like that…POOF! They were all gone. Cubs fans were devastated to see Rizzo, Baez, and Bryant gone. If most Cubs fans are being honest, they will agree it was the right move for the long-term future of the club. Notice how I didn’t mention Kimbrel?
So, was trading all of those guys away the right move?
We are heading into the second full season since the Cubs core of star players was intact. I wanted to answer that very question. Time will tell if the prospects the Cubs received in return will pan out. It remains to be seen if the former Cubs will be successful with their respective new clubs. I know it’s still early in the 2022 season, but it’s looking like Jed Hoyer, and the Cubs’ front office made the right moves.
Let’s check in on some of those now former-Cubs, shall we? You may be surprised to hear how they are doing with their new clubs.
Current Age: 33
Team Traded to: New York Yankees
Current Team: New York Yankees
2021 stats (after being traded): .249 AVG, 8 HR, 21 RBI, .768 OPS in 49 games
New Contract: Re-signed with the Yankees for 2 years-$32 million; Opted out after 2022 and re-signed with the Yankees for 3 years-$51 million.
2022 stats: .224 AVG, 32 HR, 77 RBI, .817 OPS, 2.3 WAR
For me, personally, this one hurt the most as a Chicago sports fan. Rizzo was the heart and soul of the Cubs. I was a big fan of the former Cub first basemen. He is a leader. The man was once willing to fight the entire Reds dugout. Rizzo made some of the best defensive plays involving a tarp that I’ve ever seen. Plus, I respect the hell out of the guy for his charitable work and the fact that he’s a cancer survivor. Rizzo helped the Yankees qualify for the postseason but was eliminated in the wild-card game. The Gold Glove first basement re-signed in New York twice! As much as I am a fan of Anthony Rizzo, I think the Cubs made the right move in trading him despite replacing him with a first baseman by committee approach.
Current Age: 30
Team Traded to: New York Mets
Current Team: Detroit Tigers
2021 stats (after being traded): .299 AVG, 9 HR, 22 RBI, .886 OPS in 47 games
New Contract: Signed with the Detroit Tigers for 6 years-$140 million prior to the 2022 season
2022 stats: .238 AVG, 17 HR, 67 RBI, .671 OPS, 2.6 WAR
“El Mago” was once predicted as the most likely of this group to sign an extension to stay in Chicago. It was rumored that the Cubs offered him an extension similar to the contract he signed in Detroit before the pandemic, but it was not meant to be. Baez was traded to the Mets and was able to experience playing with fellow Puerto Rican star Francisco Lindor. The 2018 NL MVP runner-up and two-time All-Star then decided to sign in Detroit but had a rough first year in the Motor City. I’m sure the Mets and the Cubs are feeling good about letting Baez walk at the moment, seeing that he hasn’t been anywhere close to the impact player he has been historically. I do think that Baez will pick it up. He better, for the Tigers’ sake.
Current Age: 31
Team Traded to: San Francisco Giants
Current Team: Colorado Rockies
2021 stats (after being traded): .262 AVG, 7 HR, 22 RBI, .788 OPS in 51 games
New Contract: Signed with the Colorado Rockies for 7 years-$182 million prior to the 2022 season
2022 Stats: .306 AVG, 5 HR, 14 RBI, .851 OPS, 0.4 WAR
Kris Bryant was on his way to becoming a superstar. He won the Golden Spikes Awards in 2013 as the top amateur player. In 2014, Bryant was named Minor League Player of the Year. Add those awards to his 2015 NL ROY and 2016 NL MVP awards, and you have quite the four-year stretch. Cubs fans have been left wanting more from Bryant since 2017. The injury bug bit Bryant in 2018. He returned to MVP form in 2019 but had the worst season of his career in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. After helping the Giants win the NL West, the Colorado Rockies decided to give Bryant $182 million over seven years. Considering that he was limited to 42 games in 2022, the front office in Denver must be very about that contract. Trading Bryant when the Cubs did currently looks like the right move too. Patrick Wisdom may not be a star, but he has been solid in a full-time role for the Cubs.
Current Age: 34
Team Traded to: Chicago White Sox
Current Team: Philadelphia Phillies
2021 stats (after being traded): 2-2 record, 5.09 ERA, 1 save in 24 appearances
New Contract: Was traded to the Los Angeles Dodges in 2022; signed a 1 year-$10 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies
2022 stats: 6-7 record, 22 saves, 3.75 ERA
Hoyer got some good pieces back for Kimbrel, who was an absolute disaster for my beloved White Sox. It was a great move for the Cubs! I’m still not sure why Rich Hahn and the Sox made this trade in the first place. White Sox manager Tony La Russa decided from the very beginning that Liam Hendriks would remain the closer (good move, TLR), and Kimbrel would pitch the 8th as a set-up man. That went as smoothly as a brick to the face. I lost count of how many leads Kimbrel blew on the South Side. The Sox were eliminated by the Houston Cheaters Astros in the AL Divisional Series. I’m just happy he’s not in Chicago anymore – on either side of town. He’s the Phillies problem now that they took a one-year flier on the former All-Star closer. It will be interesting to see how he performs this season.
Oh, I forgot to mention that Theo Epstein’s man crush Kyle Schwarber hit a career-high 46 home runs for the Philadelphia Phillies last season. Was he worth big money? I don’t think so. Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta retired after 2021. Yu Darvish was the ace of the Padres with a 16-8 record and a 3.10 ERA in 2022. Which of these guys is the Cubs really missing? Most of these guys would have been an albatross on the Cubs payroll as underachievers, and the organization would be stuck in mediocrity with no signs of relief for years to come. Oh, and there is 3-time All-Star catcher Willson Contreras. He wasn’t traded but instead left the Cubs in free agency this offseason and signed with the rival St. Louis Cardinals. Ouch.
If you were building your own Major League Baseball team, who would you rather take right now? Would it be a combination of former Cubs Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, and Craig Kimbrel? Or would you rather have the current Cubs situation? They just made several solid moves which included signing stud shortstop Dansby Swanson to a long-term deal. And they replenished their farm system – the one that Epstein depleted in an attempt to maintain the Cubs’ success.
You’re taking the former Cubs because of the back of their baseball cards. It’s not like Patrick Wisdom, and Ian Gomes are the young future of the Cubs. Wisdom is 31, and Gomes is 35 years old.
With all of that said, the Chicago Cubs ABSOLUTELY did the right thing in trading away their former stars. They will always be remembered for leading the best Cubs teams of the modern era, which, oh, by the way, included a World Series win (but not you, Craig Kimbrel). Rizzo, Baez, Bryant, and Schwarber were brought to Chicago as kids to build a perennial winner. It’s time for the new generation of Chicago Cubs to get their opportunity and, hopefully, for Cubs fans, lead the North-siders back to prominence.
Photo Credit: Depositphotos