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2021 Record: 71-91
Fourth Place, NL Central
Team ERA: 4.87 (27th in MLB)
Team OPS: .719 (18th in MLB)
What Went Right
If you’re embracing the rebuild, you could maybe look at the 11-game losing streak that stretched from June 25 to July 6 as a positive long-term development. When it began, the Cubs were tied for first place in the National League Central and there was talk of keeping the band together for one last tour. When it ended, they were nine games back of the division-winning Brewers and had fully shifted into sell mode. “Life comes at you fast,” team president Jed Hoyer told reporters bluntly on July 8. The losing steak was the impetus for flipping a number of big-name impending free agents, who were unquestionably beloved but didn’t quite fit into the next window of success on the North Side of Chicago. On the other hand, should a team in the third-largest city in the country -- a team valued at $4.1 billion, playing in a non-salary-cap league -- be operating with such peaks and valleys in terms of roster talent? Anyway, yeah, the first half of the season was surely a good time in Wrigleyville. Good for all those great bars and restaurants that got hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
What Went Wrong
The lack of contract extensions at any point for Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, and Anthony Rizzo. All three were out the door before the clock ticked down to 4:00 p.m. ET at the July 30 trade deadline. Joc Pederson also got dealt away and went on to become an NLDS hero for the Braves. Chicago’s pitching proved dreadful, which largely should have been expected after Yu Darvish was shipped to the Padres over the offseason. The soft-tossing approach didn’t exactly work in this era of high-octane, three-true-outcomes baseball, with the Cubs allowing the third-most runs of any major league team. They were only better than only the Orioles and Diamondbacks in the run prevention department, and worse than the Pirates and Rangers. Jason Heyward commanded $21 million and batted just .214/.280/.347 in 104 games. He still has $44 million remaining on a deal that likely can’t be shed.
** He lasted through the Cubs’ deadline firesale in July, but will Willson Contreras make it through the winter? The 29-year-old catcher has been a generally reliable offensive performer at fantasy baseball’s shallowest position and will probably remain so either way. Even if he sticks around with a greatly diminished supporting cast, Contreras figures to get a boost in playing time in 2022 and beyond given the likely arrival of the DH in both leagues. That’s something to think about with all catchers who slug as the fantasy baseball world shifts its attention to next spring and summer.
** Ian Happ carried a good amount of fantasy buzz this past spring, going top-150 on Yahoo and even earlier in many “expert” leagues. He managed to tally 25 home runs and nine stolen bases while appearing in 148 games, but his OPS (.757) in 2021 was far below the .879 OPS he put up in 115 major league games between 2019-2020. Happ began the year at leadoff before falling down near the bottom of the order for manager David Ross. He did eventually recover to the No. 3 spot after all the trades. At age 27, there’s still a shot at a full-on breakout. He’ll have late-round appeal in 2022.
** Among fantasy-relevant starting pitchers that managed to stay healthy but still disappointed, Kyle Hendricks was among the most … disappointing. He worked 181 innings, the 10th-most in the NL and 18th-most in all of MLB, but the soon-to-be 32-year-old had a 4.77 ERA -- the scoring category that he usually thrives in -- and his strikeout rate was as low as it’s been since he first broke into the bigs in 2014. There needs to be a reexamination of the fantasy upside in his profile as a low-strikeout arm. He was a top-80 pick in drafts for 2021, around the 20th starter off the board.
** It’ll be fascinating to hear what the talk is around Adbert Alzolay next spring. He had built up some hype in the leadup to prime fantasy draft season this past March after his slider looked sharp in Cactus League play and he claimed a spot in the Opening Day rotation. There’s some potential post-hype value here if more casual fantasy managers opt not to look past the 4.58 ERA. The 26-year-old showed marked improvement with his command, finishing with a 1.16 WHIP and 128 strikeouts in 125 2/3 innings.
** Do the Cubs have something in Frank Schwindel? Acquired in a waiver claim from the Athletics on July 18, the 29-year-old first baseman put up a .342/.389/.613 batting line with 13 home runs and 40 RBI over his final 56 games. Then there’s Patrick Wisdom, who broke Kris Bryant‘s record for most home runs by a Cubs rookie with 28. Wisdom, granted, is already 30 years old. Those two could very well be the starting corner infielders for the Northsiders to kick off the 2022 campaign. And they may hold a bit of deep-league fantasy intrigue.
** Oh yeah, the Cubs also traded Craig Kimbrel this summer. Ryan Tepera and Andrew Chafin too. Rebuilding teams typically leave the closer role as an afterthought, but Codi Heuer would appear to be a strong internal candidate to grab the ninth-inning reins in 2022. Part of the return on Kimbrel from the White Sox, the 25-year-old right-hander earned a save in his final appearance of the 2021 regular season and pitched to an overall 3.14 ERA in 28 2/3 innings for the lovable losers. Lovable losers -- is that gonna be a thing again?
Key Free Agents: After all the trades, only Zach Davies. Even then, “key” is relative.
Team Needs: The next round of hope, and that’s going to take a little while to arrive.