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How Much Change are We Really Willing to Accept?

Courtesy of The Chicago Tribune/Jose M. Osorio

This post is probably going to read like one giant subtweet, and I'm OK with that. I'm a big girl, so you can @ me all you want. The Cubs FO has promised the changes this offseason that we really, truly thought were coming last offseason. That reckoning we talked about earlier, you recall? The difference is that we've already started seeing some actual proof that changes are coming, because things have... already changed.

Even at this early stage of the "winter," we've seen some pretty major shakeups to the Cubs infrastructure, both at the higher management level and on the coaching staff. I've already addressed some of the changes to the club's player development staff, including moving Jason McLeod to... a different role far away from scouting and player analysis. The Cubs have since made some cuts to their coaching staff as well, letting go of a some longtime members of the team's strength and conditioning department as well as the on-field coaching staff. These are changes that need to be made--the team has looked gassed by the end of the last three seasons, and we've all complained about the lack of internal pitching development and how players such as Albert Almora, Ian Happ and even Kyle Schwarber have stalled. I also expect some major roster changes, maybe even a major trade or two that will hurt. This is necessary, and it's what a lot of fans across social media have asked for... the change that will make the team a winner again.

That said, I have to wonder if Cubs fans are really willing to accept the change it's going to take to get the team over the stagnancy it's been in since the 2016 World Series win. Some of the changes that have been made so far barely drew a reaction, but one really stood out to me... the dismissal of Lester Strode as bullpen coach. The pen has been a problem. Despite having the 8th best ERA in the majors at 3.98 (I know, I know... blame the juiced balls), the Cubs bullpen was dusting the bottom third in fWAR at 1.3, had a middling 4.54 FIP and 9.08 K/9, and the 4th WORST BB/9 at 4.35. The Cubs were also tied with the Dodgers and Red Sox for the third most blown saves in the majors in 2019 at 28 (!!!), and I'm sure just like me, you remember pretty much every single one of them and still feel the pain.

Me whenever I think about the 2019 bullpen.

Let's start with this:

There were also a lot of musings by fans who will miss him because he gave their sons a baseball once, or waved at their daughters, or gave them some gum or sunflower seeds or an autograph. This seemingly minor change already drew some very strong reactions, and it was just that... kind of minor. Strode has reportedly been offered another position within the organization, and the Cubs have reportedly already filled his old job with former Phillies pitching coach Chris Young--someone who is known for his ability to use analytics to map out strategies and game plans for pitchers to attack opposing hitters. That sounds kind of ideal for a bullpen coach, right? If he does a good job, I'm OK with him not giving my daughter a foul ball at the next game we go to.

So that brings me back to my original question--in light of how hard some fans took losing a bullpen coach,

I mean, you remember one of those trades, at least.

what happens when the changes are on the field? In 2016, the New York Yankees realized that they couldn't keep everyone on the payroll and needed to restock the farm in order to stay competitive. A very noncompetitive Yankees team that featured aging players like Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixiera and Carlos Beltran traded both Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman for the returns of Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier. They cut all three of the aforementioned popular geezers loose at the end of that season, gave the outfield to Aaron Judge, re-signed Chapman and started winning again. They also fired their longtime manager the next year and brought in a fresh, young voice who seems to have the players' backing. It was a retool on the fly, and it worked--the team has done nothing but win ever since (well, not a World Series, but we can't all be perfect). When the Cubs beat writers talk about the team "taking a step back,($)" this is more likely what they're talking about.

Will Cubs fans be OK with drastic roster changes if it includes their favorites packing it up to go elsewhere? Because we need to be honest with ourselves about something--The Cubs are not going to pay the entire core for the sake of nostalgia. No team in this day and age will pay their entire core--not the Red Sox, not the Yankees, not the Dodgers. It's why the Sox are considering trading Mookie Betts, one of the best players in baseball, right this very second. Why? Because it simply doesn't make sense for the future. Sure, these teams can afford $300M+ payrolls, but as these players age, they start to become untradable as their skills degrade while their AAV remains the same.

Keep cashing those checks, my man.

Just ask the Giants, who are still paying a barely playable yet fan favorite Buster Posey more than $22 million a year to put up a 107 and 87 wRC+ over the last two years. They have two more guaranteed years left on that deal, by the way. The Giants also held onto a declining Madison Bumgarner past his sell-by date instead of trading him and restocking their farm before his value went down, are paying a barely average Brandon Belt $17.2 million/year, and Brandon Crawford put up a 74 wRC+ last year for $15.2 million. Both Brandons are signed through 2021. Thank God the Red Sox are still paying the Panda and for the emergence of Mike Yastrzemski and Donovan Solano, or the Giants might actually have no offense at all. Even at that, San Francisco hasn't been good since the first half of 2016--they had the worst record in baseball after the All Star break that year, you'll recall--and are just now digging themselves out of their salary woes through some creative salary dumps.

Yes, the Giants won three World Series, but they paid the price and are probably a few years away from really contending again. If the Cubs are smart they won't have to bottom out--you don't need to look at contention as a "window," just like Cheap Ricketts said. But it's gonna take a little pain for the fans. So... what if it's Willson Contreras that's moved for prospects? On paper, it's a sensible thing to consider, but will we be on board? Rumors are already starting that it's possible, and I firmly believe Willy could be wearing another uniform by spring training.

Already, fan response has been pretty extreme to the idea of trading Contreras. Even Willson has, in my opinion, made his own non-statement statement on the matter by changing his Twitter and IG profile pic:

...and photoshopping the Cubs logo out of this IG picture:

Make no mistake... Willy is awesome. I love him. My kid has a Contreras jersey! But of the position core four--Baez/Rizzo/Bryant/Contreras--only one has a solid backup and a real replacement coming up in the minors. If the in the next few offseasons they trade Contreras, extend Javy and Rizz and eventually make other moves that make letting Bryant walk palatable while staying competitive? Well, that's probably good business for both the team and the fans. It's these types of things that might really test our fan resolve over the next few months and answer the question of whether we really want to see the team enabled to win beyond just a "window." Only time will tell if we're willing to ride the rollercoaster.


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