PHOENIX — Chicago Cubs manager David Ross, who just said goodbye to outfielder Joc Pederson and is bracing himself for more painful departures, isn’t going to sugarcoat it.
The end of the Cubs’ glorious era is over.
The Cubs, who won the 2016 World Series, three division titles and reached the postseason in five of the past six seasons, are waving the white flag.
Really, they surrendered before the season started when they gave away Yu Darvish and non-tendered Kyle Schwarber to save money, but when the Cubs played over their heads for three months, they had no choice but to wait.
But now, reality is setting in and the sell-off begins.
Virtually everyone is up for sale.
Kris Bryant, the MVP of the 2016 season, and a free agent at the season’s conclusion, will be the biggest star out the door.
The New York Mets and Cubs they have engaged in serious talks, but the San Francisco Giants lurk as well, knowing they’ll have plenty of money to be a suitor for his services this winter.
The biggest return will be for closer Craig Kimbrel, who not only is pitching the best he has in years, has invaluable postseason experience, but also a $16 million club option for 2022.
One rival GM says he’d be shocked if Kimbrel is not traded to the Giants or the Philadelphia Phillies. Still, don’t count out the Houston Astros.
There could be plenty of others gone, too, like starter Zach Davies and reliever Andrew Chafin and Ryan Tepera.
“Being a seller, when you lose your friends,’’ first baseman Anthony Rizzo says, “it sucks. With Joc going, it heats up and intensifies everything. …“All the reports and rumors flying from now until then, you probably could put a full scrapbook together and see the rollercoaster that it’s going to take everyone on.’’
Rizzo is also a free agent at the end of the season, but the Cubs are hoping to sign him to an extension before he hits the market.
Ross, who was a catcher on that championship 2016 team, hitting a home run in Game 7, is well-familiar with the pain.
He was on the Boston Red Sox 2013 team that won the World Series championship.
He was also on the Red Sox 2014 team that traded away ace Jon Lester, veteran starter John Lackey, reliever Andrew Miller and outfielder Jonny Gomes at the deadline.
“Yeah, it was tough on me,’’ says Ross, particularly with the departure of Lester, one of his closest friends.
Now, Ross is about to endure the anguish again, this time as manager.
He met with his players in Phoenix before they began the second half against the Arizona Diamondbacks, told them to keep their focus, ignore the trade talk, try not to think about free agency, and thanked them.
“I think there’s a real positive that can be taken from the core group here,’’ Ross said. “Those guys have created championship expectations here.’’
The Cubs were expected to begin a dynasty in Chicago back in 2015, and although they ended their 108-year World Series drought and were a perennial playoff team, they never won another World Series, pennant, or even a single playoff game after the 2017 season.
Now, the run is over. The championship core will be stripped away and sold for parts, hoping that the rebuild can be short and sweet.
“I don’t think baseball allows you to sit back and mourn,’’ Ross says, “or have thoughts about, ‘Oh, woe is me.’ If you do that in baseball, you’re going to be left behind. I think when you’re in baseball as long as you have to be to be at this level, you learn to keep pushing forward. Whether that is disingenuous or selfish or don’t have empathy, that’s what this game creates, you have to keep moving forward.
“There’s just not a lot of time for sadness in this game. You can’t hang your head very long or this game will swallow you up.’’
So, feel free, Ross says, to celebrate the Cubs’ greatest stretch since 1906-1910 when they won two World Series and four pennants. It was a magnificent run, forever shedding the “Lovable Losers” title.
“The core group that’s been together here, winning championships here, winning divisions, putting up big-time numbers, and championship baseball here from the time they’ve been here,’’ Ross says, “is a huge positive. They should wear it with a huge badge of honor and appreciate themselves what for what they’ve created here.’’
Still, the organization can look to what the first-place Red Sox have accomplished this season – 18 months since trading Mookie Betts, who led the team to a title in 2018.
“Life,’’ in the words of Cubs president Jed Hoyer, “comes at you fast.’’
Ohtani’s legend grows
Everyone in the world is familiar with Shohei Ohtani’s talent on the baseball field, but what folks don’t know is how unbelievably gracious he is off the field.
“No matter what he does on the field, he’s a better human being,’’ Chicago White Sox closer Liam Hendriks says. “I mean he’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever spoken to in my life. He’s about as humble and gracious as they come.’’
You want proof?
Ohtani earned $150,000 from his participation in the All-Star Home Run Derby.
You know what he did with it?
He distributed the earnings to the Angels’ trainers, clubhouse staff, and media relations employees, who are the hardest working and most underpaid folks in the game.
Wild Wild (Wild) West
The best drama in the National League will be who wins the NL West, avoiding perhaps the most intriguing winner-take-all wild-card game in history between the runner-up and third-place team in the NL West between the Giants, Dodgers and Padres.
It leaves all three teams competing for the same pitchers at the trade deadline, too.
The Padres could make up ground in a hurry in the second half. They not only have more off-days than the Giants and Dodgers, but after they conclude their current 10-day trip, they only have three games east of Denver the rest of the season.
In their next 34 games, 30 are against teams with losing records.
Detroit Tigers reliever Daniel Norris, baseball’s renaissance man, was back staying in his 1978 Volkswagen van (300,000 miles until the odometer broke) during the All-Star break, catching the waves while surfing in Santa Barbara, Calif.
This has been his routine the last five years in the off-season, waking up in his van, surfing in the morning, training for two hours at the local fitness center, and then hitting the waves again.
During the season, he goes the conventional route, living in New Yankees infielder D.J. LeMahieu’s house in a Detroit suburb.
“I’m a baseball rat, I watch baseball every night when I get back,’’ Norris says. “But in the offseason, I don’t turn on TV.’’
Norris, who just landed an endorsement gig with Bulldog, a skincare brand, plans on living in his van full-time when he’s done with baseball, dreaming of catching the ultimate wave.
So what’s more rewarding: Catching that wave or striking out the side?
“I love surfing,’’ he says, “but nothing there’s nothing like striking out the side. Now, that’s the best.’’
And just how long does he plan to keep living in that ol’ van, the one he calls, “Shaggy,’’ after the character in “Scooby Doo.’’?
“Well, hopefully forever,’’ Norris says. “I’m not going to change who I am. To feel good about life, I need to have some adventure.’’
The little field of dreams
It’s a quaint little town, River Falls., Wisc., encompassing just 6.6 square miles of land with a population of 15,000. They have just one high school. One middle school.
But, oh, one gorgeous ballpark.
It’s the town’s pride and joy, the First National Bank of River Fields, and on Saturday, Hall of Famer Dave Winfield was in town for the ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating the $850,000 funding for the installation of artificial turf. It was a grant provided the Major League Baseball Players Association Youth Development Foundation and MLB.
It’s the largest grant from their youth development program, which enables 400 games to be played each summer at the $1.3 million ballpark.
When the field had just grass, they limited games to kids only 15 and older, but now, you name it, and everyone in town is using the field.
“It’s just incredible the difference it has made,’’ said Curt Bruns, who requested Winfield’s assistance as the fundraising chairman. “We may be a small town, but man do we love baseball.’’
The town, located just 30 miles east of the Twins Cities, had their local hero, Tampa Bay reliever J.P. Feyereisen throw out a ceremonial first pitch during the All-Star break.
“We’re pretty darn proud around here,’’ Bruns said. “To have one of our own throw make the big leagues, and now for a Hall of Famer to come out, you can’t have a better week.’’
Around the basepaths
– Happy Birthday to the First Lady of Baseball, Rachel Robinson on Monday, July 19. Robinson, the widow of the great Jackie Robinson, turns 99 years old. Rachel Robinson’s grace and dignity is an inspiration to us all.
– The Diamondbacks made history by drafting the first known Orthodox Jewish player in Jacob Steinmetz. Steinmetz, a native of Woodmere, N.Y., He will play during the Sabbath and on Jewish holidays but won’t ride in a car, bus, train or plane from sundown on Friday until sunset on Saturday.
The Diamondbacks say they will respect his religious beliefs and make sure his pitching schedule lines up as seamlessly as possible.
“He follows that strictly,” D-backs scouting director Deric Ladnier said. “He’s very candid about it. We felt like the ability for us to make the adjustments for his schedule will be something that will probably be unique to this organization, but we felt like it was somebody we wanted in the organization.’’
– If you think there’s a problem when not everyone in the Chicago White Sox clubhouse agrees with Tony La Russa, guess again?
“Tony’s got this master plan,” says veteran starter Lance Lynn, who pitched for La Russa in his rookie season in 2011 before La Russa retired. “I learned it a long time ago. If everybody is pulling in the same direction, then they’ll play better on the field together. And if that direction is that you’re all mad at Tony, then that works well for him, too.
“And he doesn’t care, as long as you win.”
– Sure, it’s a cool story if Mets ace Jacob deGrom breaks Bob Gibson’s record with a sub-1.12 ERA, but really, there’s no comparison given that Gisbon pitched 304 ⅔ innings in that 1968 season.
– While the seven-inning doubleheaders are likely going away for good in 2022, as commissioner Rob Manfred said, the extra-inning rule likely will stick around, although modified. Instead of teams starting the 10th inning with a runner on second base, it’s quite possible that it begins an inning or two later.
– Home, sweet home! The Blue Jays who haven’t had a home game at the Rogers Centre in Toronto since Sept. 27, 2019, finally are returning 670 days later on July 30 after opening the year in Dunedin, Fla., and Buffalo, NY. They still won’t be permitted to sell more than 15,000 seats, but at least they finally are back where they belong.
– Kudos to the San Francisco Giants for hiring Drew Robinson to be a mental health advocate after he officially retired as a player this weekend.
Robinson shot himself in the head and lost an eye in April 2020 in a failed suicide attempt, but made a courageous comeback, spending the past 2 ½ months with Triple-A Sacramento.
“I couldn’t be more excited to remain in the game that saved my life,’’ Robinson wrote on his Instagram account.
– Pretty cool of Cincinnati Reds outfielder Jesse Winker honoring the late Joe Morgan by wearing Morgan’s jersey, No. 8, as he walked the red carpet before the All-Star Game.
“I just thought for the red carpet thing,’’ Winker said, “I’d pay tribute to him and just represent Cincinnati in a way that I thought everybody would be proud of.”
– The Oakland Athletics’ colossal blunder letting Marcus Semien depart when he practically begged them to keep him has turned into a godsend for the Blue Jays with his spectacular play. Semien, who’s earning $18 million this year, could market himself as one of the top free- agent shortstops or the best second baseman on the market.
There’s no reason why he can’t receive a similar $90 million contract that D.J. LeMahieu received from the New York Yankees last winter.
– A year ago, the Phillies bullpen compiled the second-worst ERA in baseball history, 7.06. For an encore, they have blown 23 saves this year, just 11 shy of the MLB record.
– The Major League Players Association will tell you something is dreadfully wrong with the economic system when first baseman Pete Alonso made nearly $500,000 more participating in just two nights of Home Run Derbies than he earned in his entire three-year career with the Mets..
– An all-female broadcast crew will call a game for the first time in baseball history, Tuesday (July 20) on YouTube when the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays play.
Melanie Newman, the Orioles radio play-by-play voice, will be doing the broadcast. Sarah Langs of MLB.com will be the color analyst. Alanna Rizzo of the MLB Network is doing the on-field reporting. And Heidi Watney and Lauren Gardner of the MLB Network will do pre- and postgame shows.
– Atlanta’s playoff odds took a huge hit with Ronald Acuña Jr’s injury, but kudos to GM Alex Anthopoulos for refusing to surrender, spending $3.5 million in acquiring Joc Pederson and veteran catcher Stephen Vogt on back-to-back days.
“It’s nice to have Alex show us that we’re still going for it,” Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman said.
– White Sox closer Liam Hendriks spiced up the All-Star game by being equipped with a microphone during the game, and no realizing it was on, uttering a few expletives in his save.
“I makes for some interesting TV, I’m sure,’’ Hendriks said. “Hopefully the bleeping guy was on point.”
– Just how bad are the Diamondbacks, who have a legitimate shot of breaking the modern-day record of 119 losses this season.
They won 14 games in April, spanning 26 games.
They have won 12 ever since, over the course of 67 games.
– Raise your hand if you’d ever imagined a Yankees’ starting lineup against the Boston Red Sox that included Trey Amburgey, Chris Gittens, and Tim Locastro?
– Cleveland manager Terry Francona believes it’s wrong if MLB tries to limit or ban shifts in the future.
“They’re trying to get more offense in the game, I understand that,’’ Francona says, “but you seem like you’re rewarding guys that don’t use the whole field. That to me doesn’t make sense. We’re trying to get guys back to using the whole field because you get rewarded for it for hitting correctly. Now all of a sudden, guys can pull the ball and you’re going to get rewarded for it. I think it’s a little backwards.’’
– The Cincinnati Reds have only themselves to blame if they miss the playoffs, dumping closer Raisel Iglesias during the winter for salary relief. Iglesias has converted 17 of his last 18 save opportunities with a 2.60 ERA and 52 strikeouts in his last 29 outings.
You think the Reds’ beleaguered bullpen could use him now?
– The Dodgers, who opened the season with an assortment of riches in their starting rotation, now will be desperately searching for help. They lost Dustin May after one month. Trevor Bauer isn’t expected to pitch again this season. And three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw is out until August with forearm inflammation.
Their eight-year reign as NL West champions is in severe jeopardy.
– Considering the Marlins offered outfielder Starling Marte just a three-year, $30 million contract extension that he rejected, there’s a great chance he’ll be traded by July 30.
– There may have not been a greater talent evaluator for pitching than Giants executive Dick Tidrow, who passed away at the age of 74 last week. He was the one who drafted Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain, which helped lead the Giants to three World Series titles in five years.
– Since Bob Melvin became the Oakland A’s manager in 2011, they have more walk-off victories, 91, than any team in baseball. “When we’re within a run or tied here in the ninth,’’ Melvin says, “we always have a really good feeling.’’
– The Colorado Rockies are open for business with shortstop Trevor Story and Jon Gray, but instead of financial relief, are looking for star prospects in return.
“At the end of the day, it will be about what we can get back,’’ interim GM Bill Schmidt told the Denver Post. “We are not a farm system for other people.’’
– Atlanta manager Brian Snitker, when asked how he slept after knowing he lost All-Star Ronald Acua for the season: “I slept like a baby. I woke up every two hours and cried.’’
Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Chicago Cubs at MLB trade deadline: Kris Bryant, Craig Kimbrel rumors?