They started off their season playing very well, with a healthy and effective Bryant having a rebound campaign.
However, they began to slide in June, and by July, they already knew they were going to be sellers at the deadline.
The front office talked about a retooling process instead of a rebuild, but trading eight immediate contributors and getting 12 players back, mostly prospects, screams “rebuilding phase.”
And that’s perfectly fine, as the Cubs weren’t going to compete this year.
And, if they traded all those players (and there are a lot of stars there) it’s because they didn’t plan to extend them or did want to, but failed to do so.
That would mean they aren’t going to be serious competitors in 2022, either.
So, when should Cubs fans expect their beloved team to compete again?
It’s a tricky question.
An Improved Farm System
The Cubs’ farm was near the bottom tier of the league before the draft and the trade deadline.
After those two events, they underwent a much-needed talent injection to their farm.
The Cubs drafted pitcher Jordan Wicks in the first round and got other good values.
Additionally, this is their trade deadline haul: pitchers Codi Heuer, Alexander Vizcaino, Anderson Espinoza, Caleb Kilian, Daniel Palencia, and Bailey Horn; infielders Nick Madrigal and Bryce Ball; and outfielders Pete Crow-Armstrong, Kevin Alcantara, Alexander Canario, and Greg Deichmann.
There are several types of players there: present high-impact relievers like Heuer, potential high-leverage relievers like Espinoza, a hitting star in Madrigal, a plus-plus defensive outfielder with some offensive projection in Crow-Armstrong, toolsy players like Alcantara and Canario, and some talented starters.
We can firmly say that the Cubs’ system is near the middle of the pack, which is a sizable improvement over the beginning of the season.
Restocking the farm was a priority for Chicago if they were going to deal their stars, and they fought leverage issues in negotiations and mostly achieved their objective.
Contention Shouldn’t Be That Far Away
As previously stated, the Cubs are surely not going to contend in 2021 and probably not in 2022, either.
However, with a decent farm system, they have a chance to return to contention in 2023 or 2024.
Can Nico Hoerner and Nick Madrigal co-exist in #Cubs' middle infield with so little power?
Jed Hoyer: "Yeah, for sure."
Hoyer calls it "really nice" to have two high-contact, high-energy players. He adds Hoerner has defensive versatility.
— 670 The Score (@670TheScore) August 2, 2021
At some point, they will be required to bring talented players from outside, but for now, player development should be the priority.
After this heading the answer is yes. “But an analysis of the roster and farm system suggests the Cubs cannot spend their way back into contention, at least not in the 2021-22 offseason alone.”
— Mike Quinn (@mikequinn_) August 4, 2021
If some of the prospects on their farm pan out (they increased the odds of it happening with their influx of talent at the deadline) and players like Happ or Alzolay take steps forward, there is a path for the Cubs to be around .500 in 2022 and competing for a playoff spot in the National League Central, one of the weakest divisions in baseball, in 2023 or 2024.