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Chicago Cubs

It doesn't make sense to break up Chicago Cubs now

Other than Lester, most of core players from 2016 Series likely to be back

The Cubs' Kris Bryant watches his three-run home run in the first inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sept. 15, 2019, at Wrigley Field.
The Cubs' Kris Bryant watches his three-run home run in the first inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sept. 15, 2019, at Wrigley Field.

Twenty years from now, don’t expect to see a long-form documentary about the 2020 Cubs titled “Last Trip Around the Bases.”

It’s been a popular question all year for Cubs players: Are they appreciating what could be the last time together for the group that won the 2016 World Series?

The thing is, it probably won’t be their last season together, other than maybe veteran pitcher Jon Lester.

None of the Cubs’ main position players will be free agents after this season. And with so many of the key players having career-worst performances, it doesn’t make sense to start selling low.

Rather than “One Last Swing,” the 2020 season might have convinced management that the Cubs’ best future is more of the same.

“I think this is a time to focus on right now,” team president Theo Epstein said Sunday. “We’re just about to start the most important part of our 2020 season, so I want to really focus on that. As far as anything going forward, you guys can go up and down the roster and figure out who’s under club control. It’s the vast majority of the team.”

It used to be that the fear of Kris Bryant seeking a $300 million deal in free agency would necessitate the breakup of the Cubs. But now Major League Baseball suffered the epic pandemic loss of revenue, and Bryant just had his worst season.

Bryant surely still has some value. He hit .282 with 31 home runs and 77 RBIs in 2019, not far off his MVP numbers of 2016.

But a bidding war that sails north of $300 million? That’s a relic of a bygone era at the moment.

With Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez and Kyle Schwarber set to hit free agency in 2022, maybe Epstein could try a “here’s a number where we’ll be able to keep everyone” strategy when offering extensions.

This group has disappeared at the plate a few times, but they are in the playoffs for the fifth time in six years, an unprecedented achievement in Cubs history.

Here’s another issue for the Cubs: Their chance to retool the current lineup has come and gone. Guys such as Eloy Jimenez, Nicholas Castellanos, Tommy LaStella and Jeimer Candelario would have been a nice boost for the offense. Jimenez’s 2020 numbers would have led the Cubs in just about every hitting category.

Those guys have moved on, however, so the Cubs’ options basically are either trade guys coming off poor seasons or rebuild with a nonexistent group of prospects.

“Look, of course there is tremendous uncertainty,” Epstein said. “I think all that means is we’ve put an even greater emphasis in living in the moment and not taking for granted the opportunity we have right now as a group to go out and make some history and add to this group’s legacy.”

There is promising news on the pitching side. Kyle Hendricks and Yu Darvish arguably were the best 1-2 punch in the majors this season, and those two are signed through 2024 and ’23, respectively. Alec Mills is trying to be the next Hendricks-in-training. Adbert Alzolay looks like a rising star after spending much of the summer refining his pitches in South Bend, Indiana.

The bullpen has come around, and Jeremy Jeffress is the one guy they’ll need to re-sign. Starters Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood, who both spent time on the injured list, are free agents.

Then Lester, whose arrival as a free agent in 2015 helped start the run of success, has a $25 million team option for next year and a $10 million buyout. He knows the Cubs aren’t likely to spend the $25 million, so his future is in limbo.

But this still is a relatively young group. Among the position players, plus Hendricks, no one has turned 31 yet.

“Everybody involved has kind of brought this team out of the gutter and made the Cubs who they are,” Bryant said. “It’s been really special to be a part of that.”

This group may not see another World Series, but any other plan could mean a return to the gutter.

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