Chicago Cubs

Are the Cubs planning a bigger rebuild than we thought?

The Chicago Cubs have already made large changes behind the scenes, but with reports suggesting Anthony Rizzo could be on the trade block, big changes on the field could be coming soon too.

At the Cubs’ end of the year press conference, President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein hammered home the point that changes were coming to the North Side of Chicago, infamously saying he did not believe in “untouchable” players. 

Since that Sept. 30 press conference, Epstein has stayed true to his word, at least off the field. He replaced future Hall of Fame manager Joe Maddon with former Cubs catcher David Ross, restructured the front office and coaching staff, and of course, the Cubs have their own new TV Channel The Marquee Network debuting in February of 2020.

But despite all of the changes internally, the on-field talent hasn’t changed significantly since the season ended more than two months ago. There have been rumors about the Cubs possibly trading one of their core players this off-season, with names like Kris Bryant and Willson Contreras seemingly the most obvious trade candidates.

Epstein did say during that Sept. 30 press conference that while changes were coming, “a lot” of the current Cubs were expected to a part of the next championship Cubs team. However, a report from ESPN’s Jeff Passan says that the Cubs have been “manic” in their attempts to find a trade partner involving one or multiple core pieces.

The Chicago Cubs have been, according to various executives, “aggressive,” “manic,” “motivated” and “obvious” in their desire to trade someone. Or someones. The Cubs are going to make a move. They’re just not sure what yet.

Passan also mentions Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr. and Anthony Rizzo as trade candidates. Of all the players on the Cubs roster, Rizzo may be the most untradeable, not only because of his production but his leadership qualities will be essential to Ross in his first season as the manager.

And while Epstein also reminded everyone to take rumors with a large serving of salt, the picture Passan is painting doesn’t quite match the situation Epstein described back in September. Trading a player like Anthony Rizzo doesn’t make much sense for a team that plans on remaining competitive in 2020, so maybe the Cubs are just doing their due diligence and listening to offers.

But if the North Siders really are mulling over the idea of moving multiple core pieces, like Anthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras, maybe the Cubs are truly “punting” on the 2020 season in hopes of being better equipped for the future.

Passan mentions that Contreras is drawing the most interest because of his $5 million price tag and three more years of team control. Also, the return for a two-time All-Star catcher in his prime would be enough to kick-start a recovering Chicago farm system.

These moves would also mean Chicago would likely try and shed more salary to avoid paying the luxury tax again in 2020 and be able to avoid paying a higher penalty for exceeding the tax should they want to spend more after 2020. The blueprint is there for the Cubs to pull the eject cord on this group if they want to, it just seems a bit premature.

On paper, the Cubs are still one of the most talented teams in the National League, but after two seasons of failing to live up to that talent Epstein and the front office may want to bring more radical change to this Cubs group. Even if the Cubs were to retain the majority of their current roster, a case could be made for them to win their division – but they’re definitely not title contenders as constructed.

So maybe that’s what Epstein sees, a group that hasn’t shown enough consistency to be relied on and doesn’t have the same ceiling they did just a few short years ago. But removing a franchise player like Rizzo or Bryant would effectively alter the team culture that Epstein praised back in September.

“We need to create a culture, in the clubhouse with guys in uniform that they push themselves to be the very best version of themselves. We have a great culture and we’re going to try to take it to the next level.”

A true rebuild still doesn’t seem to be in the cards for the Cubs, but there could be more impactful moves on the horizon than initially believed. Until Epstein makes his first big move of the off-season, however, the direction for Chicago will remain unclear.

Next: Can the Brewers recover from a rough start to the offseason?

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