A tear-it-down Cubs rebuild could end up looking like 2012

  • Chicago Cubs center fielder Ian Happ, left, and closer Craig Kimbrel could be two players to go if the team decides on a complete rebuild after this season.

    Chicago Cubs center fielder Ian Happ, left, and closer Craig Kimbrel could be two players to go if the team decides on a complete rebuild after this season.

Updated 7/6/2021 11:46 PM

The Cubs hadn't suffered through a double-digit losing streak since May 2012.

Does anyone besides Anthony Rizzo -- who played for that team -- have strong memories of that skid? Probably not. The Cubs finished 61-101 that year. Who the heck was watching that?


So as the Cubs head toward the 2021 trade deadline with plenty of decisions to make, it's worth asking, "What would a Cubs rebuild look like?"

Well, if they did a full-throttle, sell off the stars and start over type of rebuild, it would probably look a lot like 2012.

And considering the Cubs have lost 100 games just three times in the history of the franchise, that may not be the path management chooses. Not after all the money the Ricketts family has poured into Wrigley reconstruction, the private lounges, Hotel Zachary and several square blocks of the neighborhood.

The losing streak reached 11 with Tuesday's 15-10 loss to Philadelphia. Starting pitcher Jake Arrieta left in the second inning after giving up 7 runs.

One thing to keep in mind is a Cubs July sell-off might start and end with Craig Kimbrel. The first rule of baseball rebuilds is there's no point in keeping a great closer if your team never has a late-game lead. Surely, some World Series contender could use a potential Hall of Fame closer with a 0.59 ERA.

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Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javy Baez probably wouldn't bring much return in a trade because they're in the final year of their contracts. The new team would have no idea if those guys will stay or go at the end of the year.

The Cubs would likely be better off keeping all three players through the end of the season and get compensatory draft picks if any of them leave as a free agent.

When it comes to rebuilding, the obvious example to follow is Boston, which has retooled its roster a few times on the way to winning four World Series titles between 2004 and '18. The Red Sox might do it again, back in first place this summer after posting a losing record last year.

Those Red Sox teams usually turned over the roster quite a bit but always had holdover stars like David Ortiz or Dustin Pedroia. Sometimes the supporting cast was populated by a bunch of veteran free agents.


But in recent years, the Red Sox have been able to deliver young stars like Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers to the major-league roster. That's what the Cubs are lacking right now, position players in their farm system who will be ready to contribute soon.

The only position player who appears close to getting there is outfielder Brennen Davis, who is playing at Double-A Tennessee and was chosen for the MLB Futures Game.

Could the Cubs build a winning team around Bryant and Baez, who have been their two most productive players this season? Yeah, probably. But how much money are they willing to spend?

Tougher issues are what to do with right fielder Jason Heyward, who is owed $44 million over the next two years; and center fielder Ian Happ, who was the Cubs' best offensive player last season. Heyward was hitting .197 heading into Tuesday's action, Happ at .183.

No easy answers there. No team wants to take on Heyward's contract and Happ, 26, is young enough where he might be able to bounce back after opposing pitchers seem to have found his weaknesses.

Of course, another possibility is the Cubs manage to turn things around by the end of the month and stay in the playoff race.

"It's not out of the realm for this group to roll off nine in a row as well," Cubs manager David Ross said. "That's kind of the other end of the spectrum."

If nothing else, at least the Cubs showed the path to success when they played well in May. It's having contact hitters sprinkled through the lineup.

Matt Duffy helped a ton back in May, but he's been injury-prone in recent years. He's probably not a long-term solution for the Cubs, but there has to be more guys like him out there.

Of course, it always comes back to how much money the Cubs are willing to spend. If the answer is not much, then next season could end up looking more like 2012 revisited.

• Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls


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