Everyone knows the drill by now: The Cubs have a ton of players in the final year of their respective contracts and they won’t be able to keep everyone. Yu Darvish was traded for teenagers prior to the season and there have been no extensions for any core players. Put all of that together and you would think a major rebuild was on the way.
But could the early success of several young players, particularly those homegrown pitchers the Cubs have struggled for so long to develop, change the timeline a bit?
The Cubs continue to hover around .500, which will probably keep them in the NL Central race for most of the season. If they’re within three or four games in July, does Jed Hoyer still sell? Does he ship off some players and hope for the best? Or does is it a matter of playing things all the way to the end and hoping conversations with agents result in retaining some star players as a foundation for the future?
Whatever direction the Cubs take, they’re in a much better position than when Hoyer first arrived with Theo Epstein. The play of Nico Hoerner and pitchers Adbert Alzolay, Justin Steele, and Keegan Thompson has been refreshing, providing a major boost to the franchise.
When you consider these players, plus the next wave of talent coming soon (Brennen Davis, Miguel Amaya, Brailyn Marquez, among others), the question must be asked: Is there enough talent already here to prevent a full rebuild from happening?
The results have been quite impressive for the quartet of potential future stars already in Chicago:
•Alzolay – 0.89 WHIP, 39 K’s in 37 IP, opponent OPS of .652, and has developed one of the game’s best sliders. “Alzolay Day” has become the best day of the week.
•Hoerner – Slash line of .353/.433/.471, three stolen bases, and excellent defense.
•Steele – 2.25 ERA, 13.5 K/9, appears to have balls of Steele in big moments.
•Thompson – 0 ER in 11 2/3 IP, recently made his “Pitching Ninja” debut with filthy stuff.
To me, the choice should be clear: Hoyer should extend a few key players, trade a few to continue stocking the system, and look more toward a quick reset rather than a full rebuild. The first step is doing what it takes to sign at least two of the the Kris Bryant/Anthony Rizzo/Javier Báez trio. Trade Craig Kimbrel, Zach Davies, and Joc Pederson in July for the biggest returns you can get. Even though it would hurt, trading Willson Contreras this offseason would make sense with Amaya on the way.
Doing this would give the Cubs a solid starting core, a re-stocked system, and would free up even more money than they already have coming off the books. Plus, and this is what appeals to ownership, they still keep the fans’ attention by retaining a few players from the championship team. While that latter aspect won’t be cheap, young talent means cheap talent. Filling lots of roster spots with young guys opens up even the tightest pocketbooks for extensions and other needs.
The current crop of young players is only the beginning because there are several more names to watch this season and beyond. Even if there isn’t a bumper crop in Iowa, the Cubs have major talent in the system coming up over the next 2-3 years. That said, there’s still too much talent in Chicago right now to wait until 2024 to field a winner again.
I don’t envy the decisions Hoyer has to make, but making the right ones should see the Cubs finding success again sooner than you think.