MESA, Ariz. — Theo Epstein described a need for the Cubs to undergo a brutal self-assessment come this July.
“It is not time to trick yourself,” the Cubs president of baseball operations said.
The reason why can be found in what the Red Sox received for Mookie Betts, which is not enough considering his brilliance. But the sport severely downgrades returns for players one year from free agency.
And the Cubs begin this season with Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras and Kyle Schwarber free agents two years away — the same for Jon Lester and Anthony Rizzo should their 2021 options be picked up. Attempts to extend Baez, Bryant, Contreras, Schwarber and Ian Happ have failed. And the Cubs know they will not keep all of them long term and send their payroll to $300 million or more.
To try to diversify how they spend their money and deepen a depleted farm system, the Cubs particularly shopped Bryant and Contreras in the offseason. For now, though, it looks as if the Cubs will begin the season with their core group. But the Cubs know players have much greater value if they are available for two postseason runs rather than one (like Betts), so a July appraisal looms.
“It puts us in a position in which we have to be very objective about what we have,” Epstein said. “In the middle of this season, if we have a legit World Series contender, that is really meaningful. But if we don’t, you can’t be blind to the realities of the following 18 months.”
Translation: If the Cubs think they can win it all, they will keep it together. If not, they could be one of the biggest sellers of July.
Bryant was the Cub who was most publicly shopped in the offseason. He said recent conversations with Epstein made him feel that a trade is, “still a possibility, but I feel way more comfortable in knowing that I am going to be here and play and focus on hitting leadoff.”
The 2016 NL MVP lost a service time grievance against the Cubs that had he won would have made him a free agent following this season. Yet Bryant said, “For me, I see myself as a Cub. I can’t picture myself wearing any other [uniform]. … I have told everyone here, Theo everyone, that everyone knows how I feel about this team. I know people think they know how I feel. I have come out genuinely and openly how I feel. Yes, there have been things along the way that were more of business side and disagreements, but that has no bearing on how I feel about anyone in this organization or the fan base or the city. I let Theo know that, too.”