Most Successful Era in Cubs History Ending with Whimper at Trade Deadline
Deadline is a fitting word because the Cubs — and, more accurately, my words about them — feel pretty lifeless right now. Anthony Rizzo traded a made-up section in one of 77 neighborhoods for one of the five boroughs when the Cubs traded him for two prospects. Kris Bryant was king of the world when his throw landed safely in Rizzo’s glove on a wet November night that feels like a lifetime ago, but he may be in Queens by the time you’re reading this.
Hey, at least Bryzzo could still be in the same city.
As much as I’d like to spend the next few hundred words lambasting the Cubs organization for its abject failure across multiple fronts to develop a system that would have allowed its superstars to stay as part of a competitive team, I just don’t have the heart for it right now. I know some of you out there have been galvanized by the pragmatism of rooting for laundry and have long looked forward to the day these players would be traded away, so good on you if you’re able to sail effortlessly through the end of this era.
For me, though, watching this all finally take place is like…well, I don’t really know what it’s like. The closest I can come to an analogy is having a beloved car that you restored to beauty only to allow it to fall into disrepair before eventually being forced to watch as it was being parted out at the junkyard. Only then do you realize that it probably wasn’t as nice a car as you’d built it up to be in your mind, it’s just that emotion clouded your perspective.
That’s not entirely fitting in this case because Theo Epstein admitted something most of already knew when he said the offense “broke somewhere along the lines” in 2018. The failure to develop prospects, particularly pitchers, resulted in an imbalance that had the big league roster tipping drunkenly atop a financial foundation set on shaky ground that had been hollowed out as ownership dug for gold beneath the streets of Wrigleyville.
We can debate over chickens and eggs all day, but the fact of the matter is that shrinking baseball budgets and decisions that didn’t pan out paved this road together. That’s why the Cubs may enter Friday’s game in DC with almost nothing left from that World Series title five years ago while the Dodgers are welcoming both Max Scherzer and Trea Turner.
Again, I get all of this when you look at it through an objective lens of inevitability. The Cubs got two prospects in return for Rizzo, who has been showing his age over the last couple seasons and might not have been the building block the organization needed for the future. Kevin Alcantara, a 19-year-old outfielder, now sits at No. 2 on Fangraphs’ prospect rankings and No. 9 at MLB.com. Alexander Vizcaino, a 24-year-old righty, is at 11 and 6, respectively.
Combined with the returns for Joc Pederson and Andrew Chafin, both of which appear to be very good for the Cubs, and the lighter get for Ryan Tepera, it’s hard to argue that Jed Hoyer isn’t doing a good job. Except that many more people would be a lot happier if that job entailed writing a check that would lighten Tom Ricketts’ bank account by a few zeroes.
Rizzo was really the first harbinger of the title, at least from a player perspective, when he arrived and immediately took on a leadership role. Challenging the entire Reds dugout to a fight in Cincinnati was the moment he stepped into a de facto captaincy that would run the better part of a decade, over which time he became much bigger to the team and the city than just the numbers on the back of his baseball card.
To many who grew up watching this Cubs team, Rizzo was their first favorite player. For many who grew up watching previous Cubs teams, Rizzo was their latest favorite player. Probably more than anyone else, he was the one who embodied the shift from lovable losers to world champs because his tenure spanned that whole arc. Whatever the case, he’s now the latest member of the group to be shifted elsewhere.
Jon Lester was unceremoniously allowed to leave, Kyle Schwarber wasn’t tendered a contract for ’21, and Bryant will likely be gone as well. It’s unfortunate that fans never got to properly send Lester off into the sunset, but having Rizzo and Bryant in the dugout for the entirety of Thursday’s loss is a horse of a different color. Or just horseshit.
Yeah, I get it: Ross was probably under orders not to let either play because they were involved in trade talks. But damn, man, they couldn’t be sent in to pinch-hit? Maybe just send them out to the on-deck circle and let them be announced before lifting them for another pinch-hitter. It’s not like the Cubs were playing to win anyway, despite what Ross may have said.
Failing to give the fans at Wrigley a way to acknowledge players who might have been in a Cubs uniform just felt wrong, marching orders be damned. But hey, at least the faithful who stuck around afterward got a chance to bid Rizzo adieu.
Anthony Rizzo and family walk out of Wrigley Field. pic.twitter.com/Z3pg2TGgqW
— Andy Martínez (@amartinez_11) July 30, 2021
“What we did here,” Rizzo told reporters as he and his family took in the field in the wake of the trade, “I think in due time I’ll be able to speak more on it. But it’s just unbelievable, the run. And we won’t ever take it for granted.”
To @ARizzo44, the heart and soul of the greatest Cubs team of all time.
For all you’ve done on the field and for all you do off it.
Thank you. #TeamRizzo pic.twitter.com/1OQPagPHSo
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) July 30, 2021
I’m not going to tell you how to feel or how to fan as the trade deadline razes much of what remains from 2016, but I will say that it didn’t have to be this way. This teardown shouldn’t have been necessary and building the organization back up to the unprecedented level of success it experienced is hardly a guarantee, so it would be a mistake to not maintain a little skepticism.
It would also be a mistake to abandon all hope at this point, though I won’t blame you for wanting sit in the ashes until the season ends. Losing franchise greats sucks, particularly when it’s the franchise facilitating the losing. Speaking of which, fans are probably in for a rough couple of months here after what has already been an ugly season to this point.
I guess what sucks the most is that the Cubs weren’t able to throw one last punch, they just said “No más” and bowed out after a series of disappointing finishes over the last few seasons. If nothing else, the deadline will bring a sense of peace as rumors are quieted and focus shifts firmly to the future. Of course, that also means Wrigley will be quieter and focus will shift away from Marquee.
Funny how business decisions might not always be great for business.