No Willson Contreras, no Ian Happ, no Plan for Cubs' next playoff run?

·8 min read

Will Cubs have Contreras, Happ or a plan by next homestand? originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Congratulations to the Cubs front office, whose team returned to 100-loss pace after a seventh straight loss Thursday, with two newly minted All-Stars among a half dozen valuable trade-deadline chips.

And if we keep one eye on the present and one on the future, as team president Jed Hoyer likes to say he does, those two facts suggest two compelling storylines to watch play out.

In the short term that involves whether All-Stars Willson Contreras and Ian Happ will return to Wrigley Field in a Cubs uniform after Tuesday’s All-Star game —with only a two-game series against the Pirates left at home between then and the Aug. 2 trade deadline.

The longer term storyline is even uglier: It’s the role of the big-market Cubs — who charge the highest game-day "experience" prices in baseball — in drawing up the next blueprint for multiyear rebuilds, much as they did during that three-year tank a decade ago.

Only two teams in the majors had worse records than the Cubs after that Thursday loss, and if they finish among the worst three they’re assured the best possible odds for the top overall pick in next year’s draft in a new lottery system established under the collective bargaining agreement struck in March — and no worse than the No. 7 overall pick.

But back to that idea of trading All-Stars in the same year they were selected:

Such things used to be rarities in the game, for obvious reasons — including that those tend to be your best players, by definition.

And yet if the Cubs trade both Happ and Contreras before the deadline, it’ll mark the second year in a row they’ve had two All-Stars and then traded them both — just a few years after the same Theo Epstein-Jed Hoyer front office traded Jeff Samardzija the day before his 2014 selection was announced.

Before Samardzija, the Cubs never had traded a player during a season in which he made the All-Star team as a Cub (when they traded 1941 All-Star Billy Herman to Brooklyn that year, it was in early May, and he earned selection as a Dodger).

“I love to see players succeed, so the All-Star stuff is awesome,” said Cubs manager David Ross, whose frustrations amid all the losing was evident with another ejection Thursday night.

“The trade deadline stuff is part of the business, especially when you’re not in the position to make the playoffs,” he said. “That stuff is part of the process that the front office takes care of.

“I think we’re going to be a really good team, really soon. That’s what we’re trying to get to. If pieces get moved around till then, I think that’s just part of the business. The players understand that. I understand that.”

That doesn’t mean they like it. Or that anyone paying the premium prices are obliged to tolerate it.

It does make it part of the new blueprint for whatever you want to call this roster rebuild.

A decade ago, the Cubs became the first elite-revenue team to intentionally tank full seasons to rebuild — helping usher in, along with the Astros, a wave of new-generation tankers that has plagued the game since.

With a new generation of fans inured to the specious argument that it was the best way to deliver competitive value for fans, the next step in this cold calculus appears to be a greater willingness to ship out top-value players with short-control horizons in an increasingly inflexible policy of risk-averse contract arrangements (not too unlike the file-and-trial arbitration policy that contributed to taking Contreras all the way to the final hours before a hearing last month before settling).

The Cubs aren’t the only team to ship out multiple All-Stars even last year — an unprecedented season for it.

The Rangers traded two of their three All-Stars at the deadline: Joey Gallo and Kyle Gibson.

The 2019-champion Nationals traded three: Max Scherzer, Trea Turner and Schwarber.

One difference: The Rangers turned around and dove deep into the free agent market a few months later and signed a half-billion-dollars worth of middle infielders in Corey Seager and Marcus Semien.

The Nationals got right back to work on trying to assure their next championship with a reported $440 million contract extension offer to one of the game’s biggest young superstars, Juan Soto.

Whether the Rangers’ investment pays off or the Nationals wind up feeling forced into a trade of Soto, who reportedly declined the offer, those teams at least delivered on an immediate promise to invest in a plan to compete in a foreseeable timeline.

Meanwhile, it’s anybody’s guess what the Ricketts family ownership and this front office has in store for next year’s “game experience” after this next round of deadline roster purging.

What’s in a Name?

Not Keegan. Not Willson.

The day after Justin Steele’s first child was born this week, the Cubs pitcher and his wife were still deliberating on a name — which is to say she was still deliberating as Justin awaited the verdict (with aforementioned names of teammates already off the table).

Which meant the race was on.

Would the little guy get a name before the Cubs’ rebuild would?

It didn’t take long. The Steeles won: Beau Brooks Steele.

So Jed and Carter are back on the clock — with lots of good names available.

Might we suggest Prudence? Parsimony?

The always popular Tank?

How about Rich Sellers?

Or, given the fact we’ve seen this all before from the same front office family, August II.

Pitching Development from F’s to A’s

Who says the Cubs farm system can’t scout and develop starting pitching?

Actually, pretty much everybody in baseball has said that for most of the last decade.

But check out the guy the A’s just had selected for Tuesday’s game. Paul Blackburn. That’s right. A Cubs’ supplemental first-round pick in 2012, a right-hander they traded to Seattle with Dan Vogelbach for Mike Montgomery in 2016.

Turns out all the Cubs needed to develop a homegrown All-Star pitcher was a 10-year process and to trade him to another team.

Pressure’s on

OK, Dan Kantrovitz, let’s see what you got.

The last five times the Cubs had single-digit, first-round draft picks — consecutively from 2011-15 — Tim Wilkins and  Jason McLeod nabbed four future All-Stars with those picks, albeit, one of them (2014’s No. 4 Kyle Schwarber becoming an All-Star with somebody else after he was non-tendered by the Cubs in a cost-cutting move).

In fact, those four — also including Javy Báez, Kris Bryant and Ian Happ — combined for eight All-Star selections (Schwarber earning two out of two since his non-tender), an MVP by Bryant and a Gold Glove at short by Báez.

Third-year scouting director Kantrovitz takes his shot with No. 7 on Sunday.

Who knows? Maybe if he lands another All-Star, the Cubs will keep the pick long enough that he’s still a Cub when he makes the All-Star team.

GDubSnub

Dylan Cease of the White Sox (see: Cubs’ pitching development plan above) might be the biggest snub in the city when it comes to All-Star team selections.

But even Cease isn’t a bigger snub among Chicago players than MLB leaving the Cubs’ Patrick Wisdom out of the Home Run Derby.

Have they seen how far this guy hits the ball? His 461-foot shot in Pittsburgh a few weeks ago is the longest by a Cub this season and was the 15th-longest in the majors to that point — and longer than any homer hit by half the guys in the eight-man Derby field.

Two-time champ Pete Alonso and top-seeded Schwarber, with the Ruthian build and thunderous power, are no-doubt deserving front-runners for Derby selection. But Wisdom can make a case against anybody else in the field.

No words of Wisdom for this one (that aren't roughly four letters each).

Douche of the Week

The Kansas City Royals put 10 players on the restricted list for their trip to Toronto because they’re not vaxed, and Canada won’t let them into the country — a 38-percent player deficit that far exceeds those of other teams that played the Blue Jays on the road.

That’s 38 percent of “personal decisions” hurting the team on the field — and off the field in a handful of cases. The Yankees already have backed off their interest in Royals outfielder Andrew Benintendi, and possibly others, because of the revealed vax status and the implications for a Jays division opponent.

Some might recall the Yankees are one of only two teams this season (also the Astros) to send a fully vaxed, intact roster into Toronto — and have won more games (four) there against one of the best home teams in baseball than any other opponent.

And the anti-vax proponents can save the junk-science arguments on this debate; even Anthony Rizzo got his shot for a season that has the Yankees in position for him to earn himself another ring.

So congrats to the Royals’ “Personal Choice 10” on winning this week’s DOW.

(Also receiving votes: Marquee Sports Network).

Previous winners: Josh Donaldson (May 23), Marquee Sports Network (May 30), ESPN Mic’d-up Player Dept. (June 6), Orioles Rain Delay Dept. (June 13), late-night host Stephen Colbert (June 25), Cards fan on marriage-proposal cam (June 30), Rob Manfred (July 9).

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