Cubs core no more: Schwarber decision means end of era originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
It took exactly four years and a month from that chilly, rainy, wild night in Cleveland for the slow roll since then to finally come to a stop for the Cubs championship core.
The guy who pinch-ran for him after the hit and had the heady play of the game when he took second on a fly to the warning track (Albert Almora Jr.): also non-tendered Wednesday.
Can the guy who hit that fly ball — former MVP Kris Bryant — be far behind during a winter the Cubs are all but forced to trade him to achieve the dramatic payroll cuts mandated by ownership?
“We’re in the books! We’re in history forever! This team is brothers forever no matter what!” Anthony Rizzo shouted into the TV cameras over the celebration on the field after the final out that night in 2016.
As of Wednesday the one-championship history of that core is finally, indelibly — and literally — one for the books.
Turns out this is what “no matter what” looks like. Pretty much like everything else in 2020.
Newly promoted Cubs president Jed Hoyer called it a “hard conversation” when he called Schwarber to give him the news Wednesday.
He also called Schwarber a “Cubs legend.”
And whether their ongoing dialogue leads to an improbable re-signing later in the offseason, that’s what makes this at least the symbolic, if not the absolute, end of this core’s competitive era.
Dexter Fowler and Jake Arrieta departed years ago, Addison Russell and Joe Maddon last year, Jon Lester in October, Theo Epstein last month and Bryant probably by spring training.
But the first big decision by Epstein’s replacement is the one that might have best summed up the arc of this core, from its peak of success and promise in 2015-16 to the flaws and disappointment that included only one playoff-round victory after that — none after the first round in 2017.
Schwarber hit majestic, big-game home runs as a rookie in the 2015 playoffs as the Cubs beat the Pirates and shocked the Cardinals in October. He made that impossible, early comeback from a “season-ending” knee injury in 2016 just in time to provide the returning-hero storyline for the historic World Series championship.
His youth and power were the embodiments of every soaring chapter and verse of dynasties promised in the aftermath; his streakiness and inability to sustain the high performance for more than a few months at a time, the embodiments of a lineup that Epstein said “broke” in 2018 (and that has yet to be fixed).
Rizzo, rain-delay World Series hero Jason Heyward and Game 7 starter Kyle Hendricks all should still be around on Opening Day in 2021, all at 31 — but these days providing as much value as tone-setters and mentors for the next core as championship promise for what remains of the last one.
If we didn’t know it was the end of an era with Maddon’s firing a year ago, Lester’s last hurrah in 2020 and Epstein’s decision to walk away from the last year of his contract, the new boss gave it a final kick with his first tough decision during a winter certain to include a lot more of them.
“We talked about this for several years. You knew that this group was coming up on the end of our natural control of them, so we would have to make some decisions,” Hoyer said.
Rizzo is entering the final year of his contract. Bryant and All-Star shortstop Javy Báez both are in their final years of club control, too, after being tendered contracts Wednesday. All-Star catcher Willson Contreras, also tendered on Wednesday, has two seasons left.
“And then you layer on what 30 teams are dealing with, which is obviously COVID and relative [economic] uncertainty,” Hoyer said.
Will there be fans allowed in stadiums by April? Will spring training or the season start on time in any form? Will MLB and the union provide any clarity by, say, February on roster sizes, a universal DH or the automatic runner on second for extra innings?
The only thing Hoyer can be sure of as the heavy lifting portion begins in what figures to be a long, drawn-out effort to reshape his roster is that he faces the prospect of a lot more subtracting before he can add.
And some of the subtractions might be especially painful — certainly if Wednesday was any indication.
Especially as Bryant gets pushed into the on-deck circle for the next big move of the winter.
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