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Cubs showcasing potential a week away from trade deadline

Jared Wyllys Avatar
July 26, 2023

Unless they did it before 1901, the Cubs achieved a franchise first in Tuesday’s 7-3 win over the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field. For (probably) the first time in the organization’s history, they hit at least four home runs and stole at least five bases in the same game.

Couple that with a quality start from Kyle Hendricks and effective innings from the bullpen, and throw in a dazzling, grand slam-robbing catch by Seiya Suzuki, and all the pieces are in place for a team that can be tough to beat, no matter who the opponent is.

The trouble is, the Cubs have not done enough of that, or at least have not done it consistently enough, to get results better than a 49-51 record a week from the Aug. 1 trade deadline.

“We haven’t really synced up all parts of our game at once,” Nico Hoerner said. “We’ve shown flashes of each. We haven’t even gone through a stretch where we’ve swept teams and rattled off consecutive wins and things like that. We’re doing all the right things to make that possible.”

With six more games to play before the deadline, there isn’t an opportunity to show that they can sync up and sustain it over the long haul. But if the Cubs are starting to do that even a little bit now, it’s coming at an opportune moment.

The course a team takes at the trade deadline can sometimes come down to timing. If the deadline had come in the middle of the London series, the Cubs probably wouldn’t be sellers. A week later, maybe they would have been. A week from now? That might depend on how they do Wednesday against the White Sox, for four games in St. Louis and maybe even next Monday back at Wrigley Field against the Reds.

There is a real possibility that the Cubs will be at or even above .500 by the time July ends. As things stand now, they are six games back in the division but only 4 1/2 games out of a National League Wild Card spot. 

It’s going to be tough to change those numbers much in six games, so assuming the Cubs are in more or less the same position — except with a winning record again for the first time since May 2 — there are just a few options for the front office. Stand pat, sell or buy. The first option can be ruled out, and a full selloff for the third summer in a row is unlikely. More apt to happen is a little bit of both.

Here’s why: Marcus Storman accepted a qualifying offer from the Mets in November 2020, so the Cubs don’t have that option. If he leaves as a free agent in the winter, they get no compensatory picks for him. The 32-year-old is having one of the stronger seasons of his career, and solid starting pitching is always on the market at the trade deadline. If the Cubs trade him by next Tuesday, they will at least get some prospects in return. 

Beyond that, there are a few bullpen arms that would be appealing to other teams, but it would make sense for the Cubs to trade Stroman and add to their roster otherwise. A rotation of Justin Steele, Kyle Hendricks, an improving Jameson Taillon, perhaps Hayden Wesneski, and then Drew Smyly or a young arm in the minors should win plenty of games. It’s not ideal, but it is a doable option.

Cody Bellinger is the other most logical trade piece. He has a .903 OPS, 14 home runs, and more importantly, will almost certainly be a free agent this winter. There is a mutual option for 2024, but it’s safe to assume that, given how he has played this season, Bellinger is going to want to test free agency. The Cubs have the qualifying offer option with Bellinger where they do not with Stroman, so there is less long-term risk involved in riding things out with him this season.

And the Cubs might want to. It will take a herculean effort to get to the top of their division in the last two months of the season, but a Wild Card spot is much more attainable. Last year, the Phillies were a Wild Card team and reached the World Series. In 2019, the Nationals were a Wild Card team and won the World Series. 

Two years ago, Dansby Swanson’s Atlanta Braves were 49-51 at the same point in the season as the Cubs are now. They went 36-19 to finish the season at the top of their division, and they won the World Series.

Is there any reason to think the 2023 Cubs possess similar qualities to that Braves team?

“No doubt. Belief is such a powerful thing, and being able to fight through so much adversity like in 2021 that we did, and kind of what we’re doing now,” Swanson said. “We’ve fought through so much this year and been through a lot as a group that it really does make you stronger, and I think everyone’s starting to realize and tap into the potential of this group.”

The guys in the locker room cannot decide for the front office what to do in the next week. But as Swanson joked after hitting two home runs in Tuesday’s win, “It’s fun for us to make their job challenging.”

The Cubs have won six of their last seven games with a plus-26 run differential during those games. They have the fourth-best run differential in the National League. It might not be too hard to envision this group going on a Braves-esque run in the next two months.

“We’re continuing to work towards championship baseball, and it’s not only the playoffs, it’s position to win the World Series,” David Ross said. “And what that big picture looks like is the ultimate goal, and how fast can you get there. If it means trading the entire team to win a World Series sooner, that’s the job that’s at hand. 

“I want to win a World Series. I want to be the manager of a World Series team, the guys out there want to win a World Series, and that’s what we’re all pushing for.”

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