Cubs

Underachieving Cubs get what they deserve with only Wade Davis locked in as All-Star

Underachieving Cubs get what they deserve with only Wade Davis locked in as All-Star

The year after their All-Star Game takeover, the Cubs will be keeping a conspicuously lower profile at this showcase event, another sign of an underachieving 41-41 team.

Joe Maddon will still probably have some sort of “Miami Vice” outfit or whiteout look for the Biscayne Boulevard parade – and enjoy all the attention from the international media and banter with familiar reporters at Marlins Park – but the Cubs are playing like they could use a four-day timeout next week to decompress on the beach and on the golf course.

A World Series manager can’t just pack the All-Star roster with his cronies anymore. There might be an enthusiasm gap for Cub fans and a meaningless exhibition after watching the end of the 108-year drought. Competitors are clearly catching up to the defending champs, with the Washington Nationals, Los Angeles Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies all on pace to win between 93 and 100-plus games.

But this is the bottom line to the Cubs getting one guaranteed All-Star selection – lights-out closer Wade Davis plus Kris Bryant in the final-vote gimmick – on Sunday when Major League Baseball unveiled the National League roster.

“It’s just reflective of our performance to this point,” Maddon said. “It’s just different, man. Last year, it was just a different vibe, a different start. Guys were having simultaneously kind of career years. This year, we’re not.”

The Cubs are over the comparisons to last year, but the runaway forces and unique bonds on the 2016 team showed up at Petco Park in San Diego, where their entire infield started the All-Star Game: Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Addison Russell and Bryant. Their you-go, we-go leadoff guy (Dexter Fowler) also made the West Coast trip along with two Cy Young Award-caliber starting pitchers (Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester).

“Dexter’s not here,” Maddon said. “Zobrist has been hurt. Jason (Heyward) was doing well, then he got hurt. Addison has not had the same kind of first half that he had last year.

“Part of it has been impacted by injury, (but) I’m not worried about any of that.”

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Another point of reference: The 2014 Rick Renteria-managed team that ultimately lost 89 games and finished in fifth place for the fifth consecutive season landed three (!) All-Stars in Rizzo, Starlin Castro and Jeff Samardzija (though a Fourth of July trade to the Oakland A’s made him ineligible to pitch).

For all their bumps and bruises, frustrating inconsistencies and breakdowns in all phases, the Cubs are still two games out of first place in an NL Central where only the Milwaukee Brewers are (barely) playing above .500.

“I just want us to be well and back together by hopefully right after the break going into August,” Maddon said. “We’ve done well the last part of the season the last two years in a row.

“Stay handy for right now and then get to that point. And then hopefully get the band back together and make the push that you’re looking to make.” 

While the rest of the big-league players scatter to vacation destinations, the most interesting Cub involved in the All-Star festivities might be Class-A outfielder Eloy Jimenez, who got invited to the Futures Game.

Assuming the farm system isn’t tapped out and has enough talent to package in a blockbuster deal – and the front office decides this up-and-down team is worth the reinvestment and wins a long-shot bidding war for a top-of-the-rotation starter – Jimenez would be the headliner.

“Listen, this kid is quite a talent,” Maddon said. “He’s a great kid, too. Very bright. It’s an easy conversation with him. He’s open and he listens well. Besides being this physical specimen with all kinds of tools, he’s got something going on between his ears, which I think is really going to benefit him.

“I don’t know when it’s going to be, but he’s going to be here at some point for a long period of time.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Not enough coronavirus testing for the Cubs

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Not enough coronavirus testing for the Cubs

David Kaplan, Gordon Wittenmyer and Maddie Lee discuss MLB's testing issue and what could it mean for the season. They also dive into the Cubs starting pitching with Jose Quintana being sidelined, and they make predictions on how many games the Cubs will win in the shortened season.

1:26) - How is baseball going to happen if there aren't enough tests for the players

(6:40) - Do the Cubs have enough on the roster to win this year

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest Cubs news and analysis.

(12:45) - The pitching staff for the Cubs is light if Quintana can't play

(17:46) - How many games will the Cubs win this year?

(23:42) - Will Kris Bryant sign an extension with the Cubs?

Listen here or below.

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Why Cubs core's desire to sign extensions might not matter anymore

Why Cubs core's desire to sign extensions might not matter anymore

The day after Kris Bryant suggested that first-time fatherhood and the dramatic reality of world events have changed how he looks at his future with the Cubs, general manager Jed Hoyer outlined why it might be all but moot.

Setting aside the fact that the Cubs aren’t focusing on contract extensions with anyone at this time of health and economic turmoil, the volatility and unpredictability of a raging COVID-19 pandemic in this country and its economic fallout have thrown even mid-range and long-term roster plans into chaos.

“This is without question the most difficult time we’ve ever had as far as projecting those things,” Hoyer said. “All season in projecting this year, you weren’t sure how many games we were going to get in. Projecting next season obviously has challenges, and who knows where the country’s going to be and the economy’s going to be.”

Bryant, a three-time All-Star and former MVP, is eligible for free agency after next season. He and the club have not engaged in extension talks for three years. And those gained little traction while it has looked increasingly likely since then that Bryant’s agent, Scott Boras, would eventually take his star client to market — making Bryant a widely circulated name in trade talks all winter.

MORE: Scott Boras: Why Kris Bryant's free agency won't be impacted by economic crisis

The Cubs instead focused last winter on talks with All-Star shortstop Javy Báez, making “good” or little progress depending on which side you talked to on a given day — until the pandemic shut down everything in March.

Báez, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber are both also eligible for free agency after next season, with All-Star catcher Willson Contreras right behind them a year later.

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest Cubs news and analysis.

None has a multiyear contract, and exactly what the Cubs are willing to do about that even if MLB pulls off its 60-game plan this year is hard for even the team’s front office executives to know without knowing how hard the pandemic will continue to hammer America’s health and financial well-being into the winter and next year.

Even with a vaccine and treatments by then, what will job markets look like? The economy at large? The economy of sports? Will anyone want to gather with 40,000 others in a stadium to watch a game anytime soon?

And even if anyone could answer all those questions, who can be sure how the domino effect will impact salary markets for athletes?

“There’s no doubt that forecasting going forward is now much more challenging from a financial standpoint,” Hoyer said. “But that’s league-wide. Anyone that says they have a feel for where the nation’s economy and where the pandemic is come next April is lying.”

The Cubs front office already was in a tenuous place financially, its payroll budget stretched past its limit and a threat to exceed MLB’s luxury tax threshold for a second consecutive season.

And after a quick playoff exit in 2018 followed by the disappointment of missing the playoffs in 2019, every player on the roster was in play for a possible trade over the winter — and even more so at this season’s trade deadline without a strong start to the season.

Now what?

For starters, forget about dumping short-term assets or big contracts for anything of value from somebody’s farm system. Even if baseball can get to this year’s Aug. 31 trade deadline with a league intact and playing, nobody is predicting more than small level trades at that point — certainly not anything close to a blockbuster.

After that, it may not get any clearer for the sport in general, much less the Cubs with their roster and contract dilemmas.

“We have a lot of conversations about it internally, both within the baseball side and then with the business side as well,” Hoyer said. “But it’s going to take a long time and probably some sort of macro things happening for us to really have a good feel for where we’re going to be in ’21 and beyond.”

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