At the beginning of June, just shortly after MLB started its new season, the Chicago Cubs defeated the San Diego Padres in a game at Wrigley Field that saw Javier Baez smack a home run. Back then, the Cubs seemed to be playing well and the team gave the appearance that it wanted to be a contender to take the National League Central. Appearances can be deceiving.
Just a month after that game, the Cubs were in between two 12-game losing streaks they have managed to incur this season. They haven’t played this poorly since 2012. Suddenly, there was a dark cloud hanging over the team that was visible to the few fans that ventured out to see the team in person.
Just a few weeks later, Cubs President Jed Hoyer ripped the team apart, trading away Craig Kimbrel, Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Baez, as well as a few others. It was now apparent that the Cubs were no longer serious about making a deep run this season.
Since the end of July, the Cubs have gone 17-35 and are now 67-89 overall. In addition to racking up 12 straight losses a couple of times, they are now on a six-game losing streak. It hasn’t been all bad, though, as they went 11-4 from August 23 to September 8. The overall record, however, means less than individual performances, which continue to weaken.
The season has ended up going so badly for the Cubs at home that they can’t even get the grounds crew to stay motivated. Traditionally, the crew has led the Stretch during the last home game, but not this time. Not even the fans are staying motivated, with the crowds turning out more to enjoy the weather than their favorite team.
According to Meghan Montemurro of the Chicago Tribune, the Cubs averaged 31,566 fans in the 50 games that allowed a full stadium. That equates to around 7,000 fewer fans than two years ago, the last time the bleachers could be filled. While there was some decent attendance, especially when the Cubs faced the St. Louis Cardinals, even the fans are looking for something else to do on game day.
All of this leads to the Cubs now ready to take a deep, hard look at their current ensemble and figure out what to do next. That means a lot of movement is coming, but the money isn’t there. Baseball-Reference believes that, through arbitration raises and pre-arbitration cases, the team’s payroll for next season is around $79 million. This is way below the $220 million spent in 2019.
Like all MLB teams, the Cubs have suffered financial losses because of COVID-19, with owner Tom Ricketts referring to them as losses of “biblical” proportions. With fewer fans in the stands now, Hoyer is going to have a difficult time convincing Ricketts to break out the wallet.
But, Hoyer’s going to try. He told NBCSC that the team will be “really active in free agency” and that it plans on spending money “intelligently.” The Cubs are also likely to dive into the trade market headfirst, which could lead to an even better transformation of the team’s roster.
However, focusing on free agency will be the best way to rebuild and prepare for a new season. If they choose to gamble on risky prospects, it could be much of the same for years to come in Chicago. But gambling at the powerplay casino isn’t something the Cubs have the luxury of doing at this point.
The Cubs will need to pick up a lot of talent in free agency and make serious internal adjustments if they want to be a true contender in 2022. It isn’t clear how Hoyer defines “intelligently” in terms of making smart purchases, but one thing is for sure. The Cubs lost their chance this season already and can only look to rebuild for the next.