Smalstig: The Chicago Cubs should not be content with their current state of affairs
Gehrig Smalstig | Monday, April 12, 2021
If you could travel back in time to April of 2016 and tell any Cubs fan that they would not have put Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo or Javier Baez on a long term contract by the year 2021, they would have called you crazy. The core that took them to their first World Series win in 108 years surely wouldn’t be neglected like that, right? Well, here we are.
As it stands, the Cubs are no longer the face of talent and promise in the league. When they won the World Series, Bryant, Baez and Rizzo were all 26 years old or younger and things were only looking up. Now, they’re all 30 or approaching that mark quickly and the Cubs are coming off a year that, while abbreviated, exposed their shortcomings at the plate and saw them part ways with their ace on the mound, Yu Darvish, who had a career year and finished second in Cy Young voting. They also let slugger Kyle Schwarber and 3rd starter Jose Quintana walk. If they were a piece or two away from contending for a title last year, they seem to be a lot further away now.
Even the structure of the team is not conducive to the way baseball is trending. Almost the entire lineup struggles against velocity and their staff is full of starters that struggle to throw many fastballs over 90 miles per hour in a league that has seen the average fastball velocity rise to 94 mph. This has been evidenced by their abysmal performances in the playoffs the past few years, where you are only seeing faster pitching and better fastball hitters.
So, it’s clear they have to get better in order to contend. The first place to look would be free agency, but they don’t seem to be fond of spending a lot of money, seeing that they won’t even pay their own stars who are essential on offense, defense and in the clubhouse. They did sign a replacement for Schwarber with Joc Pederson and got a quality starter back in Zach Davies when they traded away Yu Darvish, but in the best possible scenario they are still worse than before.
The next place to look has to be the farm system. Well, that isn’t panning out well either. According to MLB Pipeline, it heads into 2021 ranked as the 22nd best out of 30, and that’s even after trading for a haul of prospects in exchange for Yu Darvish. The only player of note that seems to be primed to be called up for good this year is Nico Hoerner, who would likely slide into the second base position, but a contact hitting middle infielder is not the answer to all of the Cubs’ problems.
So, what should they do? The answer is clear: something. They should either commit to a rebuild and ship away a few key pieces for prospects in order to bolster the farm system, or they should stop pinching pennies and pay up, both within the organization and on the market. While this is much easier said than done, especially emerging from a pandemic that has left all of baseball in a precarious financial position, there are too many examples from across the league that suggest that stagnation and success can no longer coincide in the MLB.
For the best example of an active ball club, the Cubs can look no further than the south side of Chicago. The White Sox have had one of the best farm systems in the league for the past several years, and now they’re reaping the benefits of their youth. Yoan Moncada, Luis Robert, Eloy Jimenez, Yermin Mercedes, Michael Kopech, Garrett Crochet, Andrew Vaughn, the list goes on. They have also been able to fill holes in the rotation and the lineup during free agency. Starters Dallas Keuchel and Lance Lynn, catcher Yasmani Grandal and closer Liam Hendriks were all some of the most sought after free agents in the past two years at their respective positions. Because of this, the Sox are in a position to succeed now and for a long time to come.
In the end, the point to be made is that the Cubs should actively work to not let history repeat itself. While the occasional wild card appearance or division title is good for morale, it’s not the standard a club like the Cubs should be content with, and certainly not what fans want to sit through for decades to come. The Cubs have the market, the money and the relevance to look past early exits towards more titles, so that’s exactly what they should do.