Rozner: This July might look very different for Cubs

  • Manager David Ross might be challenged this season to keep his team above .500, especially if the Cubs become sellers at the trade deadline.

    Manager David Ross might be challenged this season to keep his team above .500, especially if the Cubs become sellers at the trade deadline. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 3/29/2021 6:28 PM

It was early July 2014 when the Cubs traded Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, the last big chance to capitalize on assets and collect championship pieces before the rebuild hit its stride.

There was weeping from all who still didn't understand the plan -- no matter how many times Theo Epstein explained it -- but the acquisition of Addison Russell from Oakland was an enormous piece of the World Series puzzle.

 

It was on the day of that trade that Epstein promised it would be the last time the Cubs were sellers in July, a promise that he kept.

That was seven years ago. Epstein is gone and it seems all but certain now that the Cubs will be sellers in July again.

As the Bard said, the swiftest hours are those when you're winning baseball games -- or something like that.

It was a spectacular run for the Cubs that wasn't supposed to end when it did, but nearly every player who was supposed to keep the championship window open -- either with superb play or by remaining a valuable commodity that could be moved for younger, talented pieces -- instead went to pieces.

Many are gone and the few that remain are at a crossroads, most coming off at least one or multiple bad seasons, making them players you wouldn't want to sign long-term at their age, and having little value in trade talks because of their high salaries.

All that's left from 2016 are Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, Willson Contreras, Jason Heyward and Kyle Hendricks, unless you count Jake Arrieta, who has returned older and considerably less effective.

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David Ross came back a year ago, but this time as manager and he's got his work cut out for him in 2021. The Cubs, had there been a full season, were nothing more than a .500 team last year and they only got worse in the offseason, so it's difficult to see how this will be much fun.

The Brewers and Cardinals appear to be better clubs, and even if the Cubs surprise in a wretched division, they're not getting past the best of the National League, a group of four or five teams that have a chance to be very good.

It means that come July, buyers will be looking to the Cubs for bargains, and if they the aforementioned group of veterans without contracts for next year -- only Hendricks, Heyward and Contreras have term beyond this season -- play some decent baseball, they will be up for auction.

As for whether Rizzo, Bryant or Baez can come to terms on contract extensions, it probably would have happened already if it were going to happen, and the start of the season generally marks an end to those discussions.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

If Jed Hoyer is thinking with his head instead of his heart, he would probably need to see players at -- or near -- 30 years old show that they still have championship ability before including them in any part of a rebuild.

Even then, the Cubs are a long way away from competing with the likes of the Dodgers, so signing aging players to significant deals doesn't make a lot of sense.

And signing players merely because they're fan favorites is a really dumb way to handle baseball business. As evidence, all you need to do is look back at the 30 years before 2016.

But this will be worth watching over the next three or four months, even if the team at times doesn't offer the same pledge.

It has been a tremendous time for Cubs fans, this last six years of baseball with a World Series title and several postseason opportunities, but it has hit a wall and a rebuild is necessary, even if it's not the size or scope of the last one.

It is, nevertheless, necessary.

It wasn't supposed to happen this way, the championship window shutting on the team now, integral players traded or released, and only Hendricks earning a contract extension.

Shocking, really, that it has come to this for a group that fulfilled a promise to the fans, but not their own promise as a group, one that offered so much more.

Unfortunate and surprising that it has occurred, but let us now borrow from the late, great Dallas Green, when he so wisely concluded, "It is what it is."

And he would tell you that like it or not, time marches on.

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