Less than five months ago, Kris Bryant was fielding emotional questions about the young group of hitters he’d won a World Series with in 2016. They were all established now, approaching walk years, and Bryant said he had “no clue” what the offseason would hold for them.
This week, however, Bryant was back at Cubs spring training. And so were Javier Báez and Anthony Rizzo. The three of them are entering their last season of club control. Yes, Kyle Schwarber is on the other side of the country in Nationals camp. But in many ways, 2021 is the Cubs core’s second chance at a final act.
“It seems like the talk every year is, is this the last hurrah? Is this it?” Bryant said Thursday. “It is a broken record every single year. I don't know what (else) to say.”
He’s right, the Cubs have been here before. But this season it’s not just a reaction to former Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein dubbing a season a “year of reckoning,” or common sense suggesting that a team would rather get something back in a trade than let a free agent walk.
This time, there’s a hard deadline. If the Cubs can’t reach extensions with Báez, Rizzo and Bryant, or re-sign them after they hit free agency, then the core will break up.
“I'd love to have that continuity and have some of these guys going forward,” Hoyer said last week. “But we've said, financially, it's impossible for any team to be able to continue with that group indefinitely.”
Considering the Cubs’ disappointing end to the 2020 season, maybe this do-over is a gift.
The Marlins swept the Cubs in a best-of-three Wild Card series at Wrigley Field, holding the home team to just one run. After the last game, Bryant walked through a quiet clubhouse and eventually made his way to the interview room. A few questions in, a reporter asked him about the championship core.
“It’s been incredible just to be here with those guys,” Bryant said. “Obviously, you see them on the field and see what they can do on the field, but just as people and just as husbands and fathers and brothers, it’s unbelievable. This group of people here in this organization and everybody in the city, it’s just amazing.”
Now, Bryant doesn’t have much more to add. But he does have at least a little more time.
Last week, Hoyer said the Cubs weren’t in any active trade talks. That could change with the right phone call. But extension talks, which Hoyer is planning to have this spring, could also solidify the core’s future.
One thing the players do have a hand in is the team’s success heading into the trade deadline.
“My hope certainly is that we're on the on the on the ‘buy’ side of that,” Hoyer said. “But those are the hard decisions that you have to make in this job if we're not playing well.”
On Thursday, Bryant brushed off the idea that the stakes were higher to start this season.
“I think just every year it's important to get off to a good start,” he said. “No need to make this any bigger than it is. Trade deadlines, guys’ last year, who cares? Every year is the same: we want to get off to a good start, enjoy wins, flush losses and just go out there and play.”
That mentality may be exactly what the Cubs core needs to go out on a good note.