After putting together a curse-breaking, World Series-winning Chicago Cubs roster, Theo Epstein departed the team this offseason. Depending on how the 2021 season goes on the North Side, what remains of Epstein’s core may not be far behind him on its way out of town.
Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, and Kris Bryant – the three most important players in the lineup – are all slated to be free agents after this season. Barring any agreed-upon extensions, if the team finds itself struggling out of the gate and not in position for a playoff push come the All-Star break, it wouldn’t be surprising to see all three of those players moved at the deadline.
Clearly, how the 2021 season goes will have a huge impact on the direction of the Cubs franchise for years to come.
With that in mind, here are three bold predictions for the Cubs this season. If even one or two of these predictions come true, it could change the course of the Cubs’ season and have repercussions in Wrigleyville for years.
1. Kris Bryant will set a new career-high in home runs
I’ve been an unashamed believer in Bryant since his major league debut in 2015. Yes, it’s been a bumpy ride at times, but the underlying talent that netted him a Most Valuable Player award and three trips to the All-Star game is still there.
Bryant is coming off by far his worst season – he hit a measly .206/.293/.351 while appearing in just 34 games. He battled through nagging injuries for most of the shortened season, and some serious news about those ailments just came to light.
In a recent interview with NBC Sports Chicago, Bryant revealed that his wrist “injury” he played through last year was actually an impact fracture. That can go a long way in explaining Byrant’s poor performance, especially in such a small sample size.
If Bryant is back at full health, the league should be on notice. Regardless of your opinion of the former MVP, he’s been undeniably one of the best position players in baseball since his debut. Since getting called up in early 2015, Bryant’s 28.4 fWAR is the sixth most among position players and his .378 wOBA is the 18th best.
Not only does Bryant have something to prove after such a down season in 2021, but he’s also playing for a new contract.
It seems like ever since his MLB debut, there’s been a countdown clock on when Bryant would be a free agent and sign his mega-deal, courtesy of his star agent, Scott Boras. A strong bounce-back performance from Bryant in 2021 would cement his status as one of the top free agent options during the upcoming offseason.
Bryant’s got a lot on the line this year, and a great season could make him a couple hundred million dollars richer. If that’s not an incentive to put on a clinic at the plate, I don’t know what is.
Seeing Bryant launch 40 or more home runs this year isn’t something I’d put money on, but it certainly doesn’t seem too far-fetched given the circumstances. While it’s likely Bryant’s last season as a Cub, watching him set a new career-high in home runs would be a great final memory of his time in Chicago.