Sure, Cubs could clean house, but where are the replacements?

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Are the Cubs ready to blow up the roster before the trade deadline? Not so fast. A lack of replacements may lead to a different scenario, incuding one where the Cubs keep Kris Bryant.

    Are the Cubs ready to blow up the roster before the trade deadline? Not so fast. A lack of replacements may lead to a different scenario, incuding one where the Cubs keep Kris Bryant. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 7/15/2021 8:10 PM

Everyone from Joe Buck to Big Papi seems to think this month will bring the end of the Cubs as we know them.

Slow down, though, and let's think this through.

 

Team president Jed Hoyer said there are no plans for a ground-up rebuild, and there's evidence to support his case. The Cubs have too much invested in the ballpark, neighborhood and one-dimensional sports network to revert to pre-2015 relevancy.

This also is not a case of moving people out to make room for the next wave of stars. Besides outfielder Brennen Davis, MVP of the Futures Game, the Cubs' top position prospects are teenagers, from 2020 first-round pick Ed Howard to international-signee Christian Hernandez to ex-Padres prospect Reginald Preciado.

The Cubs found a taker for Joc Pederson, sending him to Atlanta on Thursday for minor league first baseman Bryace Ball. But there are no replacements on hand for Kris Bryant or Javy Baez. So what are the Cubs going to do, get a piddling return for Bryant in a trade and then try to sign another marquee free agent this winter?

Well, maybe they'll do that. But it's still more logical to let things play out, try to re-sign Bryant, Baez and maybe Anthony Rizzo, and build a better supporting cast around those guys.

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To stay competitive, the Cubs will need a couple of all star-level bats to build around. So it's either keep Bryant and Baez, or dump some cash at the doorstep of guys like Trevor Story and Nick Castellanos -- or something similar.

Keep that in mind as we take a partial lap around the roster for the Cubs midseason report:

Bryant, Baez: Bryant has a decent .854 OPS, while Baez is top-10 in the National League in home runs and RBI. Both players have their flaws, but they've been among the Cubs most productive hitters.

Bryant has amazing versatility in the field, with at least 10 starts at five different positions. Some Baez lapses have led to a team-high 15 errors and he leads the league in strikeouts, but there may be no shortstop with more spectacular defensive plays.

Based on observations, Bryant is likely prepared to leave as a free agent -- he's represented by Scott Boras, after all -- but the Cubs can afford to make a competitive offer.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Baez has always seemed set on staying, so the Cubs aren't taking a huge gamble by letting free-agency play out.

Rizzo: The longest-tenured Cubs player is not having a great year, turns 32 next month and has dealt with recurring back trouble. Is there a contending team anxious to add Rizzo's veteran wisdom for the stretch run? That remains to be seen.

Patrick Wisdom: Besides the free agents, the biggest question for the Cubs in the second half is if Wisdom can keep up his early pace. He leads the team in OPS and slugging, and only Shohei Ohtani has a lower homer runs per at-bat ratio.

It looks like the Cubs might have hit the jackpot with Wisdom. If he could draw more walks, a good comp could be the Dodgers' Max Muncy, another guy who endured a journey before finding a place where it all clicked.

Or, as happens a lot in baseball, the competition will find a weakness and Wisdom will struggle in the second half. There's a lot riding on how this turns out, both for Wisdom's career and the Cubs' future. He can play first or third, and as a 29-year-old rookie, Wisdom will be ready to retire by the time he's eligible for free-agency.

Nico Hoerner: Similar to Wisdom, the Cubs are hoping Hoerner's .333 batting average has staying power. For now, he looks like a guy who could play second base for the next 10 years.

Willson Contreras: Find him a healthy backup and everything should be fine.

Ian Happ: He went from being easily the team's best hitter in 2020 to a miserable slump this year. The Cubs don't have much choice but to wait it out and hope Happ can figure things out this winter.

Jason Heyward: He's owed $44 million over the next two years. It won't happen now, but the Cubs may eventually have to swallow some of the money left on this deal.

Matt Duffy: His knack for contact gave the Cubs lineup a much-needed, Ben Zobrist sort of boost. His history of injuries makes it tough to count on him beyond this season. But at least he gave the Cubs a template for what they need.

Starting rotation: Kyle Hendricks, signed through 2024, is probably the most secure player on the roster. There's probably an equal chance the Cubs trade Zach Davies this month or re-sign him this winter.

Adbert Alzolay needs to fight through a recent rough patch, Alec Mills has earned his spot in the rotation, while Jake Arrieta and Trevor Williams are probably marking time until Justin Steele is ready to make his big-league starting debut.

Relief pitching: As mentioned yesterday, the Cubs have some arms in Iowa ready for promotion. So Craig Kimbrel, Andrew Chafin and Ryan Tepera are candidates to be moved this month.

The bullpen was once the catalyst of the Cubs' 26-11 run through May and June, but that was a few lifetimes ago. The only thing that can save the Cubs now is six games against 26-66 Arizona coming out of the all-star break.

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