Cubs' Complete Guide, Preview for 2nd Half of 2021 MLB Season
The Chicago Cubs limped into the All-Star break with a 44-46 record following a brutal 2-13 stretch of games that included an 11-game losing streak.
That rapid reversal of fortunes has moved them squarely from buyer to seller ahead of the 2021 trade deadline, and all signs point to a fire sale to dismantle the core.
"When your playoff odds get into single digits at this time of the year, you have to keep one eye on the future and what moves you can potentially make that can help build the next great Cubs team," general manager Jed Hoyer told reporters.
It's a clear fork in the road for an organization that appeared to be on the cusp of a dynasty after winning the 2016 World Series with a largely homegrown core of rising young talent.
Buckle up for a busy second half, Cubs fans.
Ahead is a preview for the second half of the season, complete with potential X-factors, a trade deadline outlook and a blueprint for this Cubs team to still reach the postseason.
RHP Adbert Alzolay
Assuming they sell aggressively, the final two months of the season will be focused on assessing in-house talent and trying to figure out what players on the roster are potential building blocks for the next contender.
Adbert Alzolay has shown some intriguing flashes this year, posting a 4.66 ERA and 1.09 WHIP with 81 strikeouts in 77.1 innings. The 26-year-old impressed down the stretch last year as well, and he has long been viewed as the Cubs best hope for a homegrown rotation fixture.
2B Nico Hoerner
Optioned to the minors to start the year and then sidelined for 36 games with a hamstring injury once he was recalled, Hoerner has impressed in 27 games' worth of action this year.
The 2018 first-round pick is hitting .330/.389/.412 while playing stellar defense at second base en route to 1.2 WAR in his limited action. The 24-year-old is a potential future building block, and he could get a shot at the everyday shortstop job if Javier Baez is traded in the next few weeks.
CF Ian Happ
The Cubs' most productive offensive player a year ago, when he posted a 133 OPS+ and received some down-ballot NL MVP support, Happ has struggled to a .183/.296/.330 line with just 16 extra-base hits and a 29 percent strikeout rate this year.
Still just 26 and controllable through the 2023 season, he will need a strong second half to solidify his standing as part of the future core.
Trade Deadline Outlook
The Cubs have a long list of potential trade chips, starting with a number of upcoming free agents.
All of these players are ticketed for free agency at the end of the year and could be on the move as rentals:
- 3B/OF Kris Bryant
- SS Javier Baez
- 1B Anthony Rizzo
- SP Zach Davies
- RP Ryan Tepera
- RP Dan Winkler
Aside from that list, Joc Pederson also has a $10 million mutual option for 2022 that will likely be declined if the team is headed for a rebuild.
The big guns are obviously Bryant and Baez, with both players likely to command premiums even as two-month rentals. Rizzo has a more limited market because of his lack of positional flexibility, and he might be the core piece least likely to be dealt because of his importance in the clubhouse and in the community.
The most likely trade candidate of all might be All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel, who has a pristine 0.57 ERA with 20 saves and 15.3 K/9 in 33 appearances. The 33-year-old has a $16 million team option in 2022 that carries a $1 million buyout.
Expect to see several of the guys listed above playing elsewhere by August.
Cubs Will Make the Postseason If...
The Cubs have 14 games left between now and the trade deadline July 30. If they come out and win 10 of those games, maybe the front office reconsiders its stance on selling. Six are against the lowly Arizona Diamondbacks, so it might not be as far fetched as it sounds.
Standing pat would mean giving the core one last chance to make a run, but they would still need multiple pitchers to step up behind Kyle Hendricks in the starting rotation to have a chance.
The Milwaukee Brewers have looked like the class of the NL Central for much of the year, but their success is built on the shoulders of their pitching staff. If injury or regression strikes the three-headed monster of Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta, the division race would suddenly be wide-open once again.
That is all a long shot, though.
By all accounts, it sounds like the North Siders are ready to throw in the towel on 2021 and, with it, disassemble the World Series core.
All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.