The Chicago Cubs Are a Baseball Travesty

The Chicago Cubs have just concluded a fire sale. They sold Craig Kimbrel, their star closer, as well as three franchise cornerstones, Javier Bez and Kris Bryant. All of them were critical contributors to the club's 2016 World Series win. This is the end of an era for the Cubs. But it doesn't have to be. Even though it is not surprising, Bryant's trade to the San Francisco Giants in exchange for two minor leaguers feels particularly bad. It was inevitable, if you know anything about the Cubs or their owner.AdvertisementBryant's major-league career began 2015, but not before the start of the season. He was clearly the Cubs' best option at third base but he was kept in the minors for a mere two weeks. They kept Bryant off the big-league roster to ensure that Bryant would not complete his sixth year in the bigs, which is the threshold for free agency. Bryant will be able to return to the bigs at the end of the 2021 season. The Cubs decided Bryant was ready for the big leagues after just 12 days of AAA ball. If he had come up earlier, he would have accumulated a full season of service time. Bryant was named Rookie of Year and he went on to win MVP. He also led the Cubs to a championship. Bryant's grievance about the Cubs' service-time shenanigans later on does not change what everyone could see. The key decision-makers for the franchises were former team president Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. Most importantly, chairman Tom Ricketts screwed with their best player in order to save money.AdvertisementAdvertisementAdvertisementBryant is the third most-valuable position player in baseball since his debut season. He trails only Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, and Mookie Betts. He was the perfect example of a Cubs player. He had exceptional numbers, a beautiful swing and a great relationship with the fans. He was willing to billboard the team and the entire sport. He created some of the most memorable sports ads ever with Rizzo, who just got traded to the Yankees.AdvertisementBryant couldn't have done more to secure a long-term, lucrative contract with his successful and wealthy team. Bryant made it clear that he wanted to stay in Chicago, but it seems the Cubs never offered Bryant a fair deal. The Cubs didn't invest in Bryant's development, so they are not in the 2021 pennant race. They traded Bryant to a team in contention. After a Thursday loss, Bryant's last act as a Cub was simply to gaze wistfully at Wrigley Field from his dugout. Bryant didn't play in that game likely because the Cubs were afraid he would get hurt. This lowered his trade value. The Cubs' first ever title in 108-years didn't get Bryant one more at-bat or a raucous ovation.AdvertisementAdvertisementBad teams can move potential free agents at the trade deadline. There is nothing wrong with that. It's part of modern sports' life cycle, and the prospects that the Cubs have just acquired will certainly help them rebuild. Bryant is also a client the notoriously tough-charging Scott Boras who may have strongly advised him against signing any deal. Bryant was also a victim of the pandemic last year, and he's been a good but not great player in 2021. It is unclear how many more elite seasons Bryant has left at age 29. Hence, we might conclude that the trade made the Cubs more successful five years later.AdvertisementEven if you are willing to give up some or all of this, Bryant's deal is still very grim. Two things are necessary to grasp the magnitude of this crime against baseball. The first is the wildly optimistic Cubs were five decades ago. The second is the wealth of the Ricketts Family.It is possible for the baseball playoffs to be shaky, and a title doesn't guarantee future success. Just ask the Kansas City Royals. The 2016 Cubs were a different story. The majority of the key hitters that year were between 22-26 years old. Although the Cubs' pitching staff was more experienced, they still seemed like a dynasty.AdvertisementAdvertisementRIP to the dynasty that never was Alec White (@AlecWhite_UA) July 30, 2021After 2016, a lot of Cubs plans went wrong. Jason Heyward, outfielder, forgot how to hit and Addison Russell, shortstop, didn't belong in a major league clubhouse. The Cubs had a core group of stars and an owner who could theoretically solve any problems that might arise. Tom Rickett, the chairman, bought the Cubs and some related assets for $900 million in 2009. Cubs now have a value of several billion dollars. The Ricketts family has been one of America's most wealthy families for decades, despite the profit-oriented investment. There is no excuse for a team not to invest heavily in order to compete. The Cubs don't have any excuse.AdvertisementAdvertisementThe Cubs roster became more expensive after 2016. This was due to the cost of young players entering their arbitration years. In 2019, the team was third in the league for payroll (an estimated $204million on Opening Day). This is just what a Cubs team should be doing. The Cubs did not offer a long-term contract for one of their top young hitters, whether Heyward's contract was a failure or Ricketts wanted a low luxury tax bill. Chicago didn't add another big-ticket agent even though its record fell dramatically in 2019. Their payroll had been reduced to $147m by Opening Day 2021, which was 12th in the league. The Cubs have finally gotten what they paid for. This year's sub.500 team will be their fourth consecutive season without a playoff win.AdvertisementTheir competition was investing while the Cubs were sitting on their shoulders. In essence, the Los Angeles Dodgers bought Betts' rights from the salary-slashing Boston Red Sox. L.A. added even more stars as the Cubs were cleaning out their houses. The Cubs' same division saw the Milwaukee Brewers sign outfielder Lorenzo Cain to a five-year deal worth $80 million. They would have made it to the World Series if the Dodgers had not been so great. The St. Louis Cardinals have traded for Nolan Arenado, an elite third baseman, and have left the Cubs behind spending-wise (though Arenado's contract is being assisted by the Rockies). The Cincinnati Reds even paid $64 million to Nick Castellanos for a Cubs deadline pick in 2019, who Chicago didn't re-sign.AdvertisementAdvertisementAdvertisementThe Pittsburgh Pirates has been the National League Central franchise that the Cubs most closely imitated over the past few years. The Cubs know better than anyone that the Pittsburgh Pirates are not something you want to imitate.Ricketts is free to manage his team as he pleases, just like Cubs fans have the right not to view him as a shady cheapskate. One of the most wealthy clubs in sports will not make an effort to retain a beloved player in baseball, who was a product of the team's farm system. Chicago is experiencing a fundamental problem. Bryant is not the only one. Rizzo, a lesser but still outstanding player, was treated the same by the Cubs.AdvertisementBetween 2010 and 2014, the Cubs were below.500 in every year. If you had told a Cubs fan in 2010 that they would make the playoffs five times and win the World Series every year, they would have accepted that offer. They would have taken your offer if you said that the Cubs would win one World Series, and achieved nothing else. The Cubs' performance is still disappointing for both fans and the sport. They could have signed some big-name free agents to fill the lineup and rotation gaps during Bryant's time on the North Side. It would be more understandable not to keep him around. It might have helped to keep Bez around if they had found a way of extending Rizzo earlier in his career. The Cubs didn't do either of these things and the potential golden age has ended.Ricketts released a statement thanking the players for their contribution to recent seasons after trading Bryant, Rizzo and Bez. Although he didn't answer any questions, if he does, someone should question him as to why any Cubs fan would ever believe that they should spend money to support a winning team, whatever it may be next.