The Cubs might be entering territory they haven’t traversed since 2014. Nationally broadcast games – even ones against the rival Cardinals – wouldn’t have the same juice, with the standings not quite as relevant to their season.
Instead of looking for a piece or two that could put them over the top to win now, the Cubs may be selling before the July 30 trade deadline. Major names with expiring contracts could be dealt for prospects, confirming the Cubs’ change in direction after their 11-game losing streak.
But what exactly would that mean?
“I know maybe the word ‘rebuild’ has been thrown out there,” manager David Ross said before the Cubs’ 6-0 loss to the Cardinals on Saturday at a rainy Wrigley Field, “but that’s not the impression that I think anybody’s under around here.”
Rebuild or not, a sell-off would task Ross with handling an unfamiliar-looking roster.
Whether or not the Cubs attempt to reload quickly, they could look very different very soon. Kris Bryant, Javy Baez and Anthony Rizzo are pending free agents and could be trade bait, and with more team control Willson Contreras could also be attractive to a contender. Zach Davies, Saturday’s starting pitcher, might also garner a look as the Cubs try to build their next championship team.
And then there’s the bullpen, which has been a strength. Closer Craig Kimbrel’s an all-star, Andrew Chafin entered Saturday with a 23-inning scoreless streak and Ryan Tepera has also been valuable, but all three could help a team with designs on October.
If the bullpen is decimated by trades, it’ll be Ross’ job to maneuver with what’s left.
“Every time we’ve had a guy go down down there it’s kind of hit me over the head where how fast your guys can get thin and you put guys in different situations, whether it’s holding a lead or pitching down, and the different adrenaline that may come with that for different guys, sure,” Ross said. “I definitely have felt that over the season already with guys that have gotten injured.”
Possibly one of the most coveted players in baseball, Kimbrel would be especially tough to replace. That’s not something Ross is thinking about yet, and if he has to, there won’t be a clear solution.
“If we trade Craig Kimbrel it’s going to be hard to lock down wins,” Ross said, stating the obvious. “I think everybody can agree with that statement.”
Of course, the Cubs wouldn’t be in this position if they had more wins this year. They didn’t get one Saturday.
After winning Friday’s series opener, the Cubs fell behind 1-0 in the first on a Matt Carpenter RBI single. Perhaps risking his trade value in the third, Rizzo unsuccessfully tried to grab a Nolan Arenado foul pop-up by hopping atop the brick wall and leaping for the ball, falling into the protective netting in the process.
Paul Goldschmidt started the fifth with a solo home run, and Davies was replaced after 4 1/3 innings. He was charged with one of the runs on Tommy Edman’s two-run homer off Adam Morgan that gave St. Louis a 4-0 lead. Paul DeJong added another two-run homer, this one off Dan Winkler, to make it 6-0.
Regardless of Saturday’s result, Ross’ job may end up being very different a month from now. Instead of managing veterans, Ross could be shepherding a developing team through the final months of a non-contending season.
But that wasn’t on Ross’ mind Saturday.
“I’m ready to win a baseball game today,” Ross said. “That’s all I’m focused on.”